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The Spanish Gardener
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Reviews & Ratings for
The Spanish Gardener More at IMDbPro »

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30 out of 32 people found the following review useful:

English boy loves, then loses, his Spanish gardener

10/10
Author: F A Chang (fachang@mailexcite.com) from Toronto, Canada
2 October 1998

Jon Whiteley stars as young Nicholas, a lonely and troubled English boy living on a Spanish estate with his cold father, played by Michael Hordern. Dad has money and power, but no time or attention for his son who is desperate for a male role model.

Dirk Bogarde stars as the gardener, who starts out caring for the plants then begins to care for Nicholas too.

This movie is based on the novel by the famous English physician, A. J. Cronin. How Green Was My Valley, with Roddy McDowell is another of his famous novels made into a movie, which also tells a boy's life story.

Nicholas becomes happy through the attention and caring of the gardener. But Dad is jealous of the influence of the hired help on his son. Yet the two have fun with simple things, like a fishing trip to the mountains.

The dark part of the movie is the father's use of power and influence to cruelly sever the relationship between the two. The loss of his son's happiness means nothing, power means all.

Contrast this movie to Captains Courageous, three movie versions available, by Rudyard Kipling. Here, a neglected boy finds love from a simple fish boat captain. This care and attention turns the boy into a proper man. Such is the power of love.

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32 out of 36 people found the following review useful:

"It's As A Man That You Fail"

Author: Michael Coy (michael.coy@virgin.net) from London, England
14 August 2000

A minor English diplomat is posted to Catalunya in the aftermath of his collapsed marriage. He takes his young boy with him, with visions of nurturing the father-son bond. Unfortunately, Brande is a 'stuffed shirt', a cold prig of a man who fails to comprehend his son's needs. He orders the gardens of the residence to be reduced to bland English regularity, instead of leaving them as a wild, overgrown delight for a child's imagination.

Jose is jobless and penniless, but the local pelota champion is a prince among men - young, handsome, charismatic and kind. When Jose is taken on as the gardener, he begins to supplant Brande in Nico's affections.

A decision was obviously taken, pre-production, to dispense with Spanish accents. There is some sense in this, because it can seriously detract from the film's purpose if the actors are constantly struggling to sustain funny voices, but it does produce an odd result. Dirk Bogarde is 'darkened up' for the part of Jose and looks great, but his smooth middle-class English delivery seems incongruous in the mouth of a Catalan labourer. When Nico visits Jose's home, every generation of the extended family speaks flawless English. That would be amazing in the year 2000: how likely was it in 1956?

Brande (played beautifully by Michael Hordern as a spiritual cripple) embarks on a campaign of emotional blackmail towards Nico and a policy of bullying Jose. He is incapable of seeing that this approach is doomed to failure, or that the subtly obsequious Garcia (Cyril Cusack) is the Iago to his own Othello. The ungracious refusal of Jose's fish marks the first breach of trust between father and son, but character is fate, and Brande is set on a course from which he cannot extricate himself. The confrontation between Brande and Nico on the staircase is one of the best things in the film. Young Jon Whiteley, in the part of Nico, gives an outstanding performance.

Bogarde plays the accusation scene with spot-on coolness, but would the theft of a watch, even at Franco's apogee, even if it involved a foreign diplomat, merit custody, handcuffs and an armed Civil Guard escort? Would someone accused of such a minor offence really prefer to take to the hills as a brigand?

Brande's Lear-like volte face in the rain-sodden mill is an affecting scene, and though the whole thing is rather far-fetched, it works as an entertaining fable.

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29 out of 33 people found the following review useful:

A Beautiful Film

8/10
Author: Elaheh Omidi Fard from Tehran
9 July 2005

I watched this movie when I was a kid and it has left a very nice feeling inside me whenever I remember it.

It is a very emotionally complicated movie with wonderful actors.

I also very much like the acting of the boy and the gardener.

The actor who plays the father is also very natural and delivers a believable and wonderful acting.

The other remarkable point is the screenplay and the story which is very deep. sometimes it makes you feel satisfied and entertained sometimes it makes you cry.

In all, It's a movie that you have to watch if you are a film lover.

8 out of 10 is my vote.

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19 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

Touching drama from an A.J. Cronin novel...

6/10
Author: Neil Doyle from U.S.A.
29 April 2007

DIRK BOGARDE gives one of his more restrained performances in the title role, a man whose friendship with a young boy (JON WHITELEY) drives a wedge between the boy and his over-protective father (MICHAEL HORDERN). It's the interplay between these three characters that drives the story and there are some melodramatic events before the happy ending.

But it takes its time in developing the characterizations, sags in the middle and then picks up again during the last half-hour when all the melodramatic conflicts have to be resolved.

Unfortunately, the TCM print shows murky color photography (especially after showing a dazzling print of BLACK NARCISSUS). Whether the film was shot in a process other than the usual British color I don't know, but the color photography was sometimes less than satisfying.

The story is one of friendship that the boy so badly needs when his father has too little time to share many activities with him. The bond between him and the Spanish gardener is based on mutual trust and the boy comes to hate his father when he realizes that he's been the cause of the man being jailed for a crime he didn't commit.

JON WHITELEY gives a remarkably natural performance for a child actor and his scenes with DIRK BOGARDE and MICHAEL HORDERN are excellently played.

There are problems of pacing that plague some parts of the film, but the last half is particularly absorbing and leads to a satisfying conclusion. Well worth watching.

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25 out of 33 people found the following review useful:

value in mentoring

10/10
Author: John Frame (johnvframe@yahoo.com) from Brisbane, Australia
4 December 2001

Nicholas is a `sensitive' British pre-teen, an overprotected only son who is forced by circumstance to accompany his unfamiliar father to a new posting as Ambassador to a Spanish region.

The residential estate's handsome gardener, Jose (played by Dirk Bogarde), takes the boy under his wing, teaching him to enjoy his physicality, the beauty of nature and the joy of life itself.

Even though the father appreciates the burgeoning health and happiness in his son, he allows jealousy and internalised homophobia to determine his actions.

In a dramatic conclusion father, son and friend all prove their integrity and devotion.

Over the years, each time I've seen this film I'm amazed by its beautiful colour and enthralled the interplay of the characters. I get a greater feeling of the father as a self-loathing homosexual - but there is no evidence that this is the case. Certainly the audience must expect an accusation of paedophilia - but when Jose is accused of stealing and imprisoned, then that still gets him out of Nicholas' life.

The Spanish Gardener is, above all, a fine film about the value of `mentoring'.

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20 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

A Great film! A Must See!

9/10
Author: lawrence_elliott from Canada
29 May 2006

The "Spanish Gardener" is a warm-hearted film that entertains, teaches and gratifies all at the same time. Dirk Bogarde is a wonderful actor who never got his due as a great interpreter of character on screen. This is a simple film, but what a film it is! Sometimes simplicity is a more powerful conveyor of truth than complex renditions that lose the audience before they can redeem themselves. So much garbage is being produced currently on film today that I wonder why filmmakers don't just sit back and learn from their predecessors, often English directors, who can teach so much just by simply observing how they craft their films?

Jose helps form a bond of friendship with a young boy that cannot be broken even by the boy's jealous older father who selfishly guards his young son as a prized possession who must not have contact with anyone. This film reminds me of "A Man Without a Face" (1993) with Mel Gibson, another wonderful film.

I cannot recommend this film too highly. It will warm your heart and break it too. But isn't that what films are supposed to do? Touch your heart and get at the universal emotions of people, much like a Beethoven Symphony would, to stir, conquer and triumph! This 1957 film is a victory because of fine directing, acting, story and execution of plot which allows the audience time to absorb and feel the emotions that develop within and between the characters, resolving itself towards a beautifully crafted ending.

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8 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Beautifully filmed, but toned down version, of the classic novel.

9/10
Author: DavidW1947 from United Kingdom
28 August 2009

A beautifully filmed (in VistaVision and Technicolor) and very interesting character study. A sort of Eternal Triangle story where the three main characters are male. Adapted from A. J. Cronin's controversial 1950 novel of the same name, the plot concerns a middle aged diplomat at the British Consul in Madrid, Harrington Brande (Michael Hordern), who is posted to a sleepy coastal town on the Spanish Costa Brava. His wife has left him and all he has is his eleven years old son, Nicholas (played by eleven years old Jon Whiteley), on whom he dotes and of whom he is so possessive that he will not allow him to go to school or to make any friends at all, even of boys his own age. Brande wants his son all to himself. His excuse for this is that Nicholas is "delicate", having suffered a serious childhood illness and must be "protected." When Brande hires Jose (Dirk Bogarde) as a gardener for the villa, Jose and the lonely Nicholas become firm friends from their first meeting, much to the consternation of the insanely jealous Brande, who goes to much trouble to destroy the friendship between his son and the gardener.

At the time, Jon Whiteley's parents were concerned about the implied sexual relationship between Jose and Nicholas in Cronin's novel and were assured by the director, Philip Leacock and the producer and screenwriter, John Bryan, that "the darker side of Cronin's novel would be omitted and the film designed for family consumption." One scene from Chapter 15 of the novel that was cut entirely from the film was where, at Brande's insistence, his friend Professor Halevy (the character changed to Doctor Harvey for the film and played by Geoffrey Keen) has a "man to man" talk with Nicholas as the boy lays on his bed in his semi-darkened bedroom and talks to Nicholas about the boy's sexual feelings and tries to get him to admit to having a sexual relationship with Jose…especially when he and Jose went fishing together in the isolated countryside…something which, much to the consternation of Halevy, who is convinced that there is something of a sexual nature going on between them, Nicholas will not admit to. Even though all this was left out of the film, the film still comes across as ambiguous and the viewer is left to put their own interpretation on the relationships between Jose and Nicholas and between Nicholas and his very possessive father.

Overall, the performances are uniformly fine, only in one instance coming across as contrived…the scene where Nicholas runs into Jose's arms and sobs. Good as he was within his range, Jon Whiteley just couldn't handle this scene and comes across as the worst sounding and most unconvincing sobber in film history. Whether or not he could have handled the scene of the "man to man" talk about his character's sexual feelings and his feelings for Jose if it had been left in the film is a debatable point. Certainly, he had the right director in Philip Leacock to help him through such a scene, as it was Leacock who, three years earlier, had directed him in "The Kidnappers", for which Jon had won an Academy Award.

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6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Worth Looking Into

8/10
Author: dougdoepke from Claremont, USA
23 August 2009

The very first frame brilliantly sets the mood and theme. As the movie opens, young Nicholas is isolated on the frame's left side leaving the remainder to a void, specifically, the gloomy interior of a British Embassy. He is peering out a window at a busy street below. Soon we hear raised voices from the next room. Then, two men enter, and the story swings into action. But this first glimpse shows us what we need to know—a lonely, curious boy separated from the world by elegantly impersonal surroundings and apart from adults in his life. In effect, the movie's 90-minute remainder shows us the boy's difficult journey from that detached space above to the worldly space below.

Naturally, a human interest story like this depends heavily on the quality of the performances. Fortunately, they're almost uniformly outstanding, particularly Hordern's. As the emotionally bottled-up father he's simply superb. He's very good at concealing unwanted emotions before they betray inner conflict and possible weakness. And being a diplomat in British employ, the self-discipline goes logically with the job. The trouble for Brande (Hordern) is that he has allowed that professional demeanor to take over his private life, as well, resulting in an emotional prig who's already lost his wife and is in the process of losing his son. The latter are quietly wrenching scenes, especially when the Spanish gardener Jose (Bogarde) arrives and the boy's conflicts become painfully evident.

It's significant that the boy's mentoring companion is made a gardener—that is, a man who knows how to make young things grow. (Note too how quickly the screenplay connects the handsome Jose with a girlfriend, thereby forestalling possible innuendo.) Ironically, then, it's the understanding menial and not the father, who provides Nicholas with the needed opportunity to grow. Thus, when Nicholas doffs his white shirt to join in the gardening and the sun, it's a highly symbolic act, and I was reminded of those imperial times when the conquering British were disparagingly said "to go native" by adopting customs from the locals. As a result, the rivalry between the cultured diplomat and the athletic gardener can be taken in that broader sense as involving more than matters of personal jealousy. Thus Dad's first admonition to Nicholas is to put the shirt back on, and all that signifies.

To me, the movie's first two-thirds come across as a triumph in the art of stylistic naturalism—the riveting seaside vistas, the subdued performances (excepting Cusack's overdone Garcia), along with the sensitive dialogue— for example, note the subtle lengths Robert Buford and others go to so as not to offend the insecure Brande. However—in passing —I do think the accusatory line about failing as a man is unnecessary and contrary to the film's strength, a strength that lies in "showing" rather than in "telling". In short, we've already been shown Brande's key character failing, no need to tell us.

Unfortunately, the movie's final third turns baldly melodramatic and contrived. The stagey storm and chance meetings at the mill may provide some dramatic action, but they also undercut the modulated naturalism that's so effectively defined the movie. I don't know how much of the melodrama was in the Cronin novel, but the sudden departure prevents the movie from being the classic it should have been, at least in my little book.

Nonetheless, it's an unforgettable film in so many ways. Of course, the slow pace is not everyone's cup of tea-- which may be why the last part was turned into melodrama. Still and all, there's so much that's impressive, from Whiteley's affecting performance to Bogarde's smiling approach from the bosom of the seaside. I guess the story could be taken as an allegorical comment on what happens to even the coldest-climate British when introduced to the soothing rays of the Spanish Riviera. However that may be, it remains a moving film of memorable moments and one of my favorites.

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13 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

Just a little correction about Cronin

Author: buktel from Turkey
7 April 2006

I just want to correct a little misstatement made by FAC (fachang@mailexcite.com) in his (or her) well written Spanish Gardiner comment. He (or she) mistakenly says Spanish Gardiner and How Green Was My Valley were novels both written by A.J. Cronin. In fact, the latter was written by Richard Llewellyn.

Spanish Gardiner also made a strong impression on me, since I was at the age of the boy in the film when I saw it first in a cheap black and white copy, at a garden cinema in Izmir, in the Fifties. Dirk Bogarde had been my hero then due to the Spanish Gardiner in which he was unjustly treated and along with it his other two films in both of which he died. (In A Tale of Two Cities he was the first character I watched being beheaded by the guillotine. In The Singer Not The Song, he was a handsome, malicious, romantic villain wearing black from top to hills and paying for his sinful deeds at the end.) I was very sorry for Bogarde at that time. I thought however he was a bandit villain (in The Singer Not The Song) he should marry beautiful Mylene Demongeot. (Oh! How could I have forgotten her for so many years!) COSKUN BUKTEL

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Learn to become a human being.

7/10
Author: JohnRouseMerriottChard from United Kingdom
19 June 2009

The Spanish Gardener is an adaptation from A. J. Cronin's novel of the same name. It tells the story of a British diplomat called Harrington Brande {Michael Hordern excellently grumpy} who is relocated to Cataluña, Spain, after his marriage falls by the way side. Taking his young son Nicholas {Jon Whiteley tender} with him, Harrington is perturbed when Nicholas forms a loving and trusting friendship with the estate gardener Jose {Dirk Bogarde charming}. Bitten by jealousy and tortured by his own inadequacies as a father, Brande becomes nasty and spiteful, and it gets to the point where he will stop at nothing to break up the friendship. All of which is keenly observed by the shifty, and often drunk butler, whom it seems has a very vested interest in the family proceedings.

The Spanish Gardener is a lovely sweet movie that really hits the spot if one is looking for a warming humanistic fable. It has no pretensions to be ground breaking or feel the need to garner critical appraisal. It's message is simple and it relies {and succeeds in my case} on the viewers basic willingness to be engaged by its integrity and story telling worth. Yes it's far from flawless. You will need to accept Dirk Bogarde as being Spanish, what with his fluctuating tan shades throughout the picture being obvious, not really helping that train of thought. Then you will have to get over a disappointment that the budget didn't let the production utilise more of the sumptuous Cataluña {oh my that Sea} location {interiors done at Pinewood Studios}. But couple the warmth and sincerity of the story with John Veale's lovely score, and it's not with the niggles that you come away with.

It's not one I would suggest you rush out to see, but if you get the chance to watch this film, you should do so, for I'm sure you will feel all the better for it come the end. 7/10

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