The Chalk Garden (film)

The Chalk Garden is a 1964 British-American film directed by Ronald Neame. It stars Deborah Kerr and Hayley Mills and is an adaptation of the 1955 play of the same name by Enid Bagnold.[2]

The Chalk Garden
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRonald Neame
Produced byRoss Hunter
Screenplay byJohn Michael Hayes
Based onThe Chalk Garden play by Enid Bagnold
StarringDeborah Kerr
Hayley Mills
Music byMalcolm Arnold
CinematographyArthur Ibbetson
Edited byJack Harris
Distributed byRank Film Distributors
Universal Pictures
Release date
21 May 1964
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
United States
Box officeest. $3,250,000 (US/ Canada)[1]

Plot summary

An elderly woman hires a governess, Miss Madrigal (Deborah Kerr), with a mysterious past to look after her disturbed and spoiled teenage granddaughter Laurel (Hayley Mills), who has seen off many previous governesses. Laurel feels intense jealousy and resentment of her beautiful mother who lives elsewhere with her new husband, and has been taught by her Grandmother to hate her mother. When Miss Madrigal arrives, Laurel is intrigued by her apparent lack of a past, and tries to investigate who she is and to "expose" her. Through this investigating, Laurel helps precipitate the climax of the film where it is revealed that Miss Madrigal was convicted of murdering her step-sister 15 years ago and was sentenced to death, though the sentence was commuted and she'd been in prison since then. Instead of running away from this fact once it is revealed, Miss Madrigal uses this painful revelation to convince Laurel and her Grandmother that she was once like Laurel, and that Laurel should leave her Grandmother's toxic environment and go to live with her mother, where she can grow into a better person. Laurel understands Miss Madrigal's self-sacrifice as an example of love, and follows her advice to live with her mother.



In 1960 Hunter said he had the rights to the play, having "forced the studio to buy it". He worked with the writer to make it "more commercial".[3]

The film was announced in May 1962. Originally Joanne Woodward was to star with Sandra Dee. Ross Hunter wanted Ingrid Bergman to co-star and had originally sought Gladys Cooper for the role of Mrs. St. Maugham in place of Edith Evans. [4]


Edith Evans was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She lost to Lila Kedrova in Zorba the Greek. Arthur Ibbetson was nominated for the BAFTA award for best cinematography.


Award Category Subject Result
Academy Award Best Supporting Actress Edith Evans Nominated
BAFTA Award Best British Actress Nominated
Deborah Kerr Nominated
Best Cinematography (Colour) Arthur Ibbetson Nominated
Best British Production Direction (Colour) Carmen Dillon Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Motion Picture - Drama Ross Hunter Nominated

Critical reception

The New York Times wrote, "a GREAT deal of scrupulous cultivation and orderly shaping of the plot have been done to make a film of...Enid Bagnold's eccentric British play...the tangle of its arrangement and the overgrowth of its characters have all been trimmed and weeded by some prudent and skillful hands to make the bright, sweet and aromatic picture that opened at the Music Hall yesterday...Ronald Neame, who has directed the picture, and John Michael Hayes, who has written the script, present us with a cozy, compact drama that follows a comfortable, sentimental line...There are moments, however, when the sharpness of Miss Bagnold's oblique slant on life cuts through, usually in glints of hidden mischief or in lines of slashing paradox and wit. When these come, the film sparkles briefly beyond the brightness of its Technicolored hues." [5]


  1. "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, 6 January 1965 p 39. Please note this figure is rentals accruing to distributors not total gross.
  2. "The Chalk Garden (1964) - Trailers, Reviews, Synopsis, Showtimes and Cast". AllMovie. Retrieved 31 March 2014.
  3. Archer, Eugene (16 October 1960). "HUNTER OF LOVE, LADIES, SUCCESS". New York Times. p. X9.
  4. FILMMAKER TALKS ABOUT 5 PROJECTS: Hunter, Here in Visit, Tells of MacDonald-Eddy Plan 'Tammy Takes Over' Is Next Joanne Woodward to Star British Film Opens Today 7 Vie for Golden Laurel Albert Lamorisse Visits By HOWARD THOMPSON. New York Times 16 May 1962: 33.
  5. Crowther, Bosley (22 May 1964). "Movie Review - The Chalk Garden - Screen: 'Chalk Garden':Adaptation of '55 Play Opens at Music Hall". Retrieved 31 March 2014.
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