This film adaptation of Edith Bagnold's play stars Deborah Kerr as Miss Madrigal, the secretive new governess of British "problem child" Laurel (Hayley Mills). Both Madrigal and faithful butler Maitland (John Mills) are aware that Laurel's atrocious behavior stems from her belief that her oft-married mother (Elizabeth Sellars) does not love her. Madrigal determines to straighten out Laurel before she becomes totally unmanageable and hurts someone else. She knows what she's doing; Madrigal has just been released from a long prison term, having been charged with the murder of her stepsister. Dame Edith Evans steals every scene she's in as Laurel's wealthy grandmother, who is pulled away from tending her precious garden only when it appears that she has a murderess in her house (the old lady indicates that she's somewhat thrilled by the prospect). The Chalk Garden represented a "stretch" for Hayley Mills, who previously had been confined to sugary-sweet Disney heroines.
by Hal Erickson synopsis