Ballet Shoes Review
When reviewing Transformers, I wrote that if I were ten years old, I would confidently announce that it was the greatest movie ever. If, on the other hand, I were a ten-year-old girl with an interest in dancing, acting and dressing up, I'd probably say the same of Ballet Shoes, a Christmas offering from the BBC that the channel broadcast on Boxing Day and which slotted into the same feelgood slot that the channel makes their own around this time of the year. In between the miserable goings-on in EastEnders and the news, Ballet Shoes was as comforting as mulled wine and quite the reward for those who stick by the BBC at Christmas time.
Ballet Shoes stars Richard Griffiths as Great Uncle Matthew (Gum), who leaves the three young girls in his care with Nana (Victoria Wood) and Sylvia Brown (Emilia Fox) in their rambling old house in London, which is otherwise filled with the bones and paleontological specimens he's picked up on his travels. As he sets off again, the three girls, Pauline, Petrova and Posey Fossil (Emma Watson, Yasmin Paige and Lucy Boynton) come with their meagre possessions, a necklace each and, in the case of Posey, a pair of ballet shoes that belonged to her mother. Nana and Sylvia raise the girls as best they can but there isn't much money. They scrimp and save but there still isn't enough and so, clearing out the dinosaur bones, Nana and Sylvia rent out their spare rooms, letting them to mechanic Mr Simpson (Marc Warren), doctors Smith and Jakes (Harriet Walter and Gemma Jones) and dancer Theo Danes (Lucy Cohu). It is Theo who turns the girls misfortune to their advantage, enrolling them in Madame Fidolia's (Eileen Atkins) school of dance and drama. Secretly the three girls make a pact, to make something of their name of Fossil, which is their name alone and which belongs to no other, Pauline and Petrova to the stage while Posey waits for her mother's ballet shoes to fit.
Playing it safe with a decent cast, a lovely post-war setting and the sort of happenstance that only comes with great fortune or on television, Ballet Shoes is a handsome adaptation of Noel Streatfeild's 1936 novel. It portrays a time when the Great War had seen a significant drop in the male population of the country with women taking up the traditional role of provider. Pauline, Petrova and Posey all seek to make something of their talents. Pauline can act and takes first to the stage and then to the film while Petrova is a natural mechanic but with these being more conservative times, she makes do as an actress, however uncomfortable she feels. Instead, she stares at the skies and uses what little money she has visit the pictures to watch the newsreels of Amelia Earhart. Posey is the naturally gifted of all, showing a talent for ballet but being much too young to do anything but practice.
Ballet Shoes probably wouldn't work so well at any other time of the year. It demands an early evening, the kind of inner warmth that comes with too much sherry trifle and a certain lack of thought as regards the gentle turning of the story. Moreover, just as Cadbury's Roses go down a treat so too do those moments that stretch the film's already-close-to-breaking relationship with what might have happened. In those years following the Great War, a girl like Petrova would have stood no more chance of making it into the air than would an emu but she does so here, saved from a life of humiliating performances on the stage with the return of Great Uncle Matthew and his fortune. What lessons that are learned are done so quickly and with little fuss. Pauline becomes something of a prima donna but rather than this being due to vanity, it comes from a work ethic that sees her want to provide for her family. Ballet Shoes works so well because little of this matters. It's uncomplicated and undemanding and was suited very well for Boxing Day. With a story that ought to work well for pre-teen girls from nice homes, it should hold up well outside of this season.
Anamorphically presented in 1.78:1, Ballet Shoes looks much better here than it did on its television broadcast, making good use of the extra bandwidth afforded by DVD to give the picture a clarity that it missed on Freeview. It's still so very clearly a television production what with the frame disguising the lack of period detail in the background but the picture looks fairly good on DVD. The colours appear to be right for the period, there's no obvious signs of problems with the source material and while there's a slight softness to the picture, this looks to be due to what the BBC expect a period drama to look like rather than any problems with the DVD presentation. The DD2.0 audio sounds to be little different to the stereo track that accompanied its television broadcast, albeit with less background noise on DVD. Otherwise, there's not much in it but there's good separation between the left and right channels and the dialogue is always clear. Finally, there are English subtitles.
There are no extras on this DVD.