It’s not hard to see why this bland version of Phillipa Pearce’s hypnotic bestselling children’s book has been left languishing on the shelf for almost four years; Willard Carroll’s adaptation manages to suck the magic out of the whole tale. It’s 1958, and Tom is sent to his aunt and uncle’s house, quarantined against the measles. It’s a dull place, but soon enlivened when Tom discovers that at the stroke of midnight, the house steps back in time and is surrounded by the most magnificent garden. There he discovers Hattie, and soon the pair are great pals.
Carroll, however, doesn’t seem to know what to focus on: Tom and Hattie’s confused friendship, the strained relationship between aunt and uncle or the garden itself. Fine actors deliver stilted performances, and the whole thing is so forced, it’s painful.