review for The Chalk Garden on AllMovie

The Chalk Garden (1964)
by Craig Butler review

The Chalk Garden was a powerful film when first released in 1964 (and an even more powerful play when first staged ten years earlier). It has lost a great deal of its potency and impact over the years, but it is still immensely enjoyable as a showcase for some very fine actors. Handsomely photographed and directed with an awareness of the story's ebbs and flows, Garden's real problem is its screenplay. The plotting is too schematic and it suffers from an over-simplified "Psych 101" approach to the social problem at its core. Much of the dialogue is stilted and emphasizes the obvious; the play's themes and concerns are stated in symbolic terms that are so blatant as to occasionally inspire laughter. That said, some of the sequences do have isolated moments of good, effective writing, such as the dinner scene in which Madrigal's secret is finally revealed. And even when the screenplay offers lesser support, this sterling cast makes the film great fun to watch. Although Edith Evans received the lion's share of attention for her scene-stealing role, the rest of the cast is equally good. Deborah Kerr is all icy authority covering a volcano of insecurity and sadness; she conveys enormous details about her life merely by the way her eyes dart about or how she holds her hands. Hayley Mills grabs the showy part of Laurel by the collar and runs with it, demonstrating that her full talents were rarely exploited, and John Mills is powerful in his understatement. Garden is dated but worth a visit.