Friday, July 24, 2020

Ballet Shoes Review

Although Noel Streatfeild isn´t a widely-known author (at least in the United States), the DVD release of a 2007 TV movie adaptation of Ballet Shoes prompted no less than The New York Times to publish an article about this version´s place in the contexts of children´s programming, motion pictures in general, dance, and social studies. Roslyn Sulcas, who regularly covers theatrical productions for the venerable newspaper, lamented about the movie´s sloppy presentation of ballet and the lead actresses´ apparent inability to curtsy even after years of training. Sulcas also frowned upon the creation of a love triangle between three of the adult characters, which seems like a bid to keep parents awake (or at least in the same room as their children) while the movie is playing.

Ballet Shoes takes place during the period between World War I and World War II. GUM/Great Uncle Matthew (Richard Griffiths), an eccentric British traveler, becomes the legal guardian of a distant relative, though he usually leaves Sylvia (Emilia Fox) in the care of Nana (Victoria Wood). Every so often, he returns home with an orphan baby. As the girls grow up, Sylvia enrolls them in a dance/performance school so that they can learn skills "suitable" for young ladies. Two of the girls want to become famous (one for acting, one for dancing), though the third has an interest in machines and dreams of becoming an aviator.

There are many seeds for interesting story threads, but the leads are mis-cast and underwritten. Emma Watson (Hermione in the Harry Potter movies) is meant to be the star of the show, but her character is simply not as interesting as the one who wants to be an aviator. Watson is confident and capable, though she relies too much on raising both eyebrows simultaneously in order to convey energy and emotion. Her character´s best sub-plot involves a rivalry with another girl, who is very talented but is brunette and plain, so she always loses choice roles to the blonde and pretty.

The other two young actresses are clearly lacking in experience and can´t hold their own when sharing the screen with veterans, including Eileen Atkins as a Russian ballet instructor. The supporting actors make strong impressions despite limited screen time. Gemma Jones and Harriet Walter are movingly hilarious as former teachers who may be lesbians, though the movie portrays them in such a way that only adult viewers might guess at any sapphic tendencies. Marc Warren, a journeyman who played Baron von Richtofen in The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones and Pvt. Albert Blithe in Band of Brothers, is a solid presence as a generous man who looks after the young girls as if they were his own daughters.