Chalk Garden, The (1964): Enid Bagnold’s Play on Big Screen Starring Deborah Kerr and Edith Evans in Oscar Nominated Part

Enid Bagnold’s famous 1955 play, The Chalk Garden, gets a mediocre transfer to the big screen under the helm of Ronald Neame.

Three great British actresses, representing different generations and different acting methods, define this melodrama, which has always been more effective on stage.

Deborah Kerr plays a governess, who’s hired by an old, eccentric matriarch (Edith Evans) to take care of her granddaughter, played by Hayley Mills.  Soon, the interaction between governess and girl is tainted and haunted by the former’s memories of her past.

This intimate character study is well acted by the incomparable Evans, who received yet another Oscar nomination for playing a matriarch, Deborah Kerr, who also played the governess in “The Innocents” (1961), Hayley Mills, then very popular with young viewers after the success of “Pollyanna” and “The Parent Trap.”

The cast also includes Hayley’s real-life father, John Mills.

Detailed lot (Spoiler Alert)

The protagonist (heroine/anti-heroine) is Miss Madrigal (Deborah Kerr), a woman with a mysterious past, is hired by an old grandmother(Evans) to look after her troubled, deceitful, and self-centered teenage granddaughter Laurel (Hayley Mills).

Insecure, Laurel feels sexual jealousy and resentment of her beautiful and absent mother, and under grandma’s influence, hates her.

When Miss Madrigal arrives, Laurel is intrigued by her “lack of a past,” which she tries to investigate and then expose publicly.

Tension builds up and in the climax 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.

Madrigal then uses her confession to convince Laurel that she should leave her Grandmother’s toxic environment and go to live with her mother where she can grow into as a normal and better person.

In the end, Laurel understands Madrigal’s genuine motivation as both act of sacrifice and demonstration of love, and follows her advice.


Deborah Kerr as Miss Madriga

Hayley Mills as Laure

John Mills as Maitlan

Edith Evans as Mrs. St. Maughan

Elizabeth Sellars as Olivia

Oscar Nominations: 1

Supporting Actress: Edith Evans

Oscar Awards:  None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Supporting Actress Oscar was Lila Kedrova in “Zorba the Greek.”

The contest included Gladys Cooper for “My Fair Lady,” Grayson Hall for “The Night of the Iguana,” and Agnes Moorehead in “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte.”