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Review: The Red Shoes - Beyond the Mirror by Esther Austin

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

Written & Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

"Powell and Pressburger’s visually ravishing masterpiece celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale, it tells the story of a young woman whose desire is to become a leading dancer. Victoria Page (played by real-life prima ballerina Moira Shearer) secures a transformative role at the Ballet Lermontov, that of a girl beguiled by a pair of magic red slippers. Gradually, the boundaries between fact and fiction blur as Page’s life intertwines with the feverish part she dances and she finds herself driven to breaking point by obsessive Russian impresario Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). THE RED SHOES revels in the captivating centrepiece ballet sequence and the backstage intrigue, unfolding against the double Academy Award-winning production design and score, as we follow characters for whom art is more important than life itself. The most iconic dance film of all time, THE RED SHOES came 67TH in the top 100 of Sight and Sound’s world-renowned Greatest Films of All Time Critics’ poll in 2022. "

Review: For two and a Half hours , I sat, mesmerised. That's a long time for a Saggitarian like me to sit for anything. And yet......everytime I felt the pangs of restlessness try to take over, I was soothed back into the enticing world of 'THE RED SHOES.' WHY? Because it was a fascinating, multi-levelled and layered production. A place that drew me into the wonder, the dreaminess of a world filled with obsessive dreams and wishes, where the worlds of reality and illusion constantly crossed paths, meandering like a stream trying to find direction. As I too weaved in and out of reality, The Red Shoes bought me to a place where I also started to ponder on my own dreamy desires, and the fixatedness of them, or not! How driven was I too at the expense of anything in my life?

Victoria Page (played by real-life prima ballerina Moira Shearer) gave an impressive performance. I was captivated by her natural 'English Rose' beauty and her wide-eyed almost innocent sense of appeal. Drawn into her world of the beautiful nostalgia of dance as it should be. Beautiful, expressive, creative, a place to excel ones soul. Yet, the flights of fancy turned into a burgeoning desire to become something more than the dance, because to dance was life itself, until it become more than life itself. However, was Victoria ready for what was to come as the fervour of being selected by the mega obsessive, yet passionate and complex Russian impresario Lermontov played by Anton Walbrook, heightened.

Lermontov, chic, handsome yet stoic, a character driven to succeed, to be in control, to control - maybe this was the only way he knew how to function without having to face his own self. A man who secretely battled the touch of emotion, to show emotion, to emote in any way possible other than to offer courteous compliments on the preliminary that one aspires to perform. Therefore, in him was created a fantatical obsession with his leading ladies. Was this because I he felt he could take a product to create and mould into a masterpiece, because there was something almost sinisterly fulfilling in some way, to him personally? And yet as he battled to contain and manage his emotions, there was that sublte sting of 'attraction' to Victoria that almost became the wind beneath his wings. However, Lermontov's refusal to accept failure, or what he perceived as failture, disasspointment or loss, meant he was able to easily submerge himself into something else swiftly and smoothly, with the end goa, as alwaysl to get what he wanted. Was Lermontov's real passion and obsession ballet or the ballerina? Was it to create masterpieces from those he saw had great potential - a way to play with and carve something dynamic into existence? Was it an internal obsession that fulfilled something much deeper?

Then interjects another facet, Marius Goring who plays Julian Craster, a young, wishful, greatly talented and sometimes impetuous composer, who eventually falls in love with Victoria. As they are both swept along with the intensity of Lermontov's passion to create, the defining worlds between love and art, love, their art and who they are, and of love itself starts to blur. They all start to grapple in some way with their own personal reality of worlds, challenging the understanding of what they really wanted and what were they prepared to do to get it. Julius, Intent on becoming the best compser and stretching his skills to the limit, enthusing his soul into creating masterpieces - a sense of fulfillment? Victoria, intent on exerting herself into being the best, a selfless act of love of her art - to dance, to express and yet somewhere in the midst of it all - her soul detached itself from the pleasure and the flightiness of dance, as she became submerged in the bowels of obsession between herself and her relationships with her husband and Lermontov and her own reality. Then there was Lermontov intent on turning others into masterpieces of his own internal longings and dreams. Feelings then become entangled and the juxtoposition between life, dreams, reality, illusion blur....

A wonderful production with fabulous backdrops, that help create the era of nostalgia and that of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale. It's been stated that 'Andersen’s great appeal to both children and adults is that he was not afraid of introducing feelings and ideas that were beyond a child’s immediate comprehension, yet he remained in touch with the child’s perspective. ' And he certainly relayed that in this wonderfully dreamy, but also sad tale, where worlds collide, where dreams are then shattered and where reality takes back control, leaving us all wondering 'What's Love Got to Do with it? OR The Power of Love?'


THE RED SHOES: BEYOND THE MIRROR exhibition at BFI Southbank runs from 10 November – 7 January

For full UK-wide listings

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