|Dirk Bogarde...as Jose?|
Harrington Brande (Michael Horden) is a minor, lifelong diplomat who learns in the opening scenes that he has been bypassed for a prestigious British consulate post. Even worse, his new job is replacing the man who got his desired post. Brande is an unhappy man who remains convinced his wife left him "without cause and on her own volition." His best friend (perhaps his only friend) knows otherwise. He recognizes that Brande is an insecure, needy man who wants love, but has trouble giving it. This is most apparent in his relationship with his young son Nicholas.
|Michael Hordern as Brande.|
Although The Spanish Gardener unfolds like a stage play adaptation, it was based on a 1950 novel by A.J. Cronin. Best known for writing The Citadel, Cronin also penned The Keys to the Kingdom and The Green Years. The latter, which also features a young protagonist, shares a common theme with The Spanish Gardener. In The Green Years, an orphan overcomes an unsteady relationship with his grandparents (or de facto parents) by bonding with someone else (his great-grandfather).
There are also similarities to Enid Bagnold's later 1955 stage play, The Chalk Garden (which was adapted into a marvelous 1964 film starring Deborah Kerr). Both works use a weed-filled garden as an analogy for children that need caring in order to grow and embrace life.
One of the most recognizable faces in British cinema, Michael Hordern worked steadily as a supporting actor from the 1940s through the 1980s. He rarely got leading roles, but he more than holds his own in The Spanish Gardener opposite rising star Dirk Bogarde. Initially, Bogarde seems an odd choice to play a Spanish gardener (and he doesn't even try for a fake accent). However, his natural warmth shines through in his scene with young Jon Whiteley.
Whiteley's parents ended his acting career at age 11. As an adult, he earned a Ph.D. from Pembroke College, Oxford, and became curator of the Christ Church Picture Gallery. When asked about his Oscar statuette in a 2013 Oxford Times interview, he said: "It is at home somewhere, but I don’t think it is a particularly attractive object. It has no great charm."
Hordern, Bogarde, and Whiteley are three excellent reasons to watch The Spanish Gardener. As a whole, the film lacks the mystery and passion that drives The Chalk Garden. Still, it manages to grip the audience's emotions and delivers a satisfying, well-told story.