film, not a book

Not a Book: The Red Shoes

Let’s continue the overarching themes of this month again – with some ballet and some theatre in a classic film.

The Red Shoes is all about a ballerina’s dedication to her art being tested by an impresario forcing her to chose between her career and love. Moira Shearer’s Vicky Page is plucked from obscurity to be the lead role in a new ballet, based on the Hans Christian Andersen story of the Red Shoes. But at the same time she’s secretly falling in love with a composer who is working with the country. And so it begins. I’m not spoiling the rest of it.

Made in 1948, it’s frequently on lists of the best British films ever – it got a bunch of Oscar nominations at the time and its reputation has only increased since then. It’s one of the sequence of Powell and Pressburger films from that period – coming after the adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Black Narcissus which is one of the other really well known ones. It’s also packed full of real ballet dancers – so you can see Robert Helpmann in a role that’s not the Child Catcher!

For me, when I first saw it the opening ballet class and performance sequences showed me exactly what I had imagined Veronica’s life at the Wells to be like. The film is from just a couple of years before the first Sadlers Wells book was published – I think Moira Shearer even gets a mention in one of them – although obviously Veronica is a child and Vicky is already a trained dancer, and Veronica and Sebastian’s… situation has a positive resolution!

A couple of years back, Matthew Bourne turned the film into a ballet, using the amazing score. I saw it on it it’s first tour and it’s proper good. New Adventures rotate through their shows, and it was touring when Covid started and everything stopped, so it might be a while before it’s on stage again – but it’s worth seeing when it is. But in the meantime, you can just go an watch the original film, which was restored in 2009 and looks amazing. It’s on BritBox if you have that, or you can buy it on DVD. It also comes around on TV reasonably regularly – often around Christmas.

Happy Sunday everyone – if it’s a bank holiday where you are, I hope you’re enjoying it.

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