Secret of Moonacre Manor — Movie review

September 15, 2014 The Little White Horse, The Secret of Moonacre 11

The Little White Horse remains one of my favorite children’s books of all time. When I found out it had been made into a movie, I was both excited and apprehensive, and immediately borrowed it from Netflix.

It turns out I was right to be apprehensive. In filming The Secret of Moonacre, the movie’s writers and directors made a number of drastic and completely unnecessary changes to the characters and storyline.

Look, I know that film is a different medium than print, and that some changes are often necessary to make the story work on screen. I’m fine with the Lord of the Rings films, because Jackson stayed true to the overall spirit and feel of the original despite some alterations. That is decidedly not the case with The Secret of Moonacre.

[Warning: spoilers ahead]

To begin with, the plot bears only a superficial resemblance to that of the original book. The screenwriters have distorted the legend of the Moon Princess in ways that make the entire story both less believable and less charming than the original. I particularly hated the whole “entire valley will be destroyed” threat. And some episodes are missing entirely.

Robin (Augustus Prew) and Maria(Dakota Blue Richards)  (The Secret of Moonacre)

But I was even more upset over the way in which the central characters’ personalities were altered.  For instance, the movie version of Uncle Benjamin is an abrupt, brooding man, not at all the hearty, caring guardian he is in the book.  Loveday, rather disconcertingly, has been recast as a de Noir rather than a Merriwether connection, and in keeping with the revamped Moon Princess legend, she’s a bit New-Age.  Coeur de Noir himself is portrayed as a villain without any redeeming features, unlike the character in the book.  Worst of all, Robin is transformed from a delightful childhood companion into a pouting, kohl-eyed, black-leather-clad bad boy (and the despised son of de Noir).  And Maria, far from being the fearless and determined young lady of the book, actually tries to run away to escape her “destiny.”

Maria (Dakota Blue Richards) in her tower room (The Secret of Moonacre)
The production values weren’t too bad, particularly the sets, which are frankly gorgeous. The costume design, on the other hand, was rather odd. For all its fairy-tale feel, the book is set in an idealized rural 19th-century England, and I expected reasonably historical garb (especially given the book’s loving descriptions of Maria’s outfits!) Instead, we were treated to a quirky mix of various historical eras and fantastical, Wonderland-ish elements. As for the performances, some of the actors were a bit over-the-top, though Tim Curry, at least, gave every evidence of enjoying his over-the-top-ness to the hilt. 

I will be fair and admit that most of my quarrels with the movie are due to the ways in which it distorts and violates the spirit of the book.  If you haven’t ever read The Little White Horse, the movie may be watchable, perhaps even enjoyable, particularly for older children. It’s visually appealing despite the odd costuming, and the cast includes Tim Curry, Ioan Griffudd, Juliet Stevenson, and Dakota Blue Richards, none of whom are lacking in talent.

But if, like my daughter and me (and a number of Netflix reviewers), you loved The Little White Horse, do yourself a favor and skip the movie altogether.  Instead, curl up with a nice cup of tea and some ginger biscuits or scones, and share the book with someone who’s never read it.  You’ll both be better off.

11 Responses to “Secret of Moonacre Manor — Movie review”

  1. Katherine P

    The book sounds charming and I will add it to my list of children’s books to read. I think I’ll skip the movie though. Like you said – books and film are different mediums and certain things don’t translate but I think there needs to be someone involved with the movie who loves the book to really keep the spirit the same or it ends up getting ruined. Like Peter Jackson is a long time Lord of the Rings fan and the movies have the same feel even if they’re not spot on with the details. On the other hand Kevin Sullivan couldn’t care less about the Anne of Green Gables series and the 3rd movie is a travesty. Can you tell I’ve had this particular rant before? Thanks for giving me a book rec and a movie to avoid!

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      The book is wonderful – and it was one of J. K. Rowling’s favorites when she was growing up. (Mine too.) I totally agree with you about movies – there has to be someone who is invested enough in the book(s) to keep the writers and director focused on what is wonderful about the book, not on changing this, that and the other thing to put their own stamp on it. And I agree with both your examples (though the first Anne of Green Gables is charming, the second bothered me and I didn’t even watch the third.)

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      If you don’t go into it already loving the book, you may enjoy it. It’s certainly lovely to look at, and there are some good people in it. It’s a little over-the-top here and there, but I think if I hadn’t loved the book so much, I might have enjoyed it more.

  2. Elisa Bergslien

    Well bummer. I am always looking for good movies to watch with the kiddos and was hopeful about this one. Poor Tim Curry – he is such an amazing actor but has a terrible time getting good roles.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      He seems to be enjoying himself – I think it’s rather freeing to play an all-out villain (or so I’ve heard.) As I said to Angela, it may be all right if you haven’t read the book; it was the huge liberties they took with the original story that really made me mad.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      Oh, Jan, I agree so much! I’m both excited and apprehensive now that Warner has optioned the Pern novels. They could be wonderful or just awful, depending on what the writers and directors do with it.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      They do, and it’s probably not a horrible film in and of itself (though even then, I think it’s a bit uneven.) What really blew it for me was how they messed with the original story and characters.