In Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s visually ravishing masterpiece, a young ballerina is torn between the demands of love and art. Like the heroine of Hans Christian Andersen’s source fairytale, whose magic shoes compel her to dance, Victoria Page – played by real-life ballerina Moira Shearer – finds herself driven to breaking point by obsessive Russian impresario Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) when she’s cast in his ballet The Red Shoes.
With its captivating behind-the-scenes insight into the creative process, and characters for whom art is more important than life itself, the film has proved an inspiration to filmmakers and dancers alike. For writer-directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, it represented a triumphant attempt to create a ‘composed film’ in which music – here by Brian Easdale – plays a more central role, demanding similar expressive intensity in every detail of design and performance. Fittingly, it won Oscars for both art direction and music.
“It’s hard to think of many films that match The Red Shoes for ferocity and passion, since in every costume, set, and streak of grease paint there is desire. Moira Shearer’s performance as an ambitious ballerina is a tour de force. Jack Cardiff ’s moody colour work takes on a life of its own on screen. And the cinematography in the surreal extended dance sequence is breathtaking. This film taught me to love melodrama, and to understand ‘camp’ in new and complex ways.” Rebecca Harrison