Magical family treat for half terrm

Stardust Starring: Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Sienna Miller, Mark Strong, Ricky Gervais, Peter O'Toole, Jason Flemyng, Rupert Everett, David Walliams, David Kelly, Ian McKellan; Dir: Matthew Vaughn; Cert: PG; 2hrs 10mThere's not too many Hollywood blockbusters that cast Ipswich as a wild, slightly exotic market town that represents the last word in the frontier spirit in a rather fantastic rural 19th century England - but this star-filled fantasy adventure manages it a remarkable five times in as many minutes.

Andrew Clarke

Stardust Starring: Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Sienna Miller, Mark Strong, Ricky Gervais, Peter O'Toole, Jason Flemyng, Rupert Everett, David Walliams, David Kelly, Ian McKellan; Dir: Matthew Vaughn; Cert: PG; 2hrs 10m

There's not too many Hollywood blockbusters that cast Ipswich as a wild, slightly exotic market town that represents the last word in the frontier spirit in a rather fantastic rural 19th century England - but this star-filled fantasy adventure manages it a remarkable five times in as many minutes.

To the beautiful, rather shallow and unworldly Victoria (Sienna Miller) Ipswich provides all the big town excitement that anyone could possibly wish for. But for Tristan (Charlie Cox), her prospective suitor, he wants to go beyond Ipswich * in order to prove his worth.

Their village is surrounded by an ancient stone wall guarded by an ancient kung fu kicking guardian played by veteran Irish actor David Kelly (the one-armed dish-washer in Robin's Nest).

On the other side of the wall is the mystical kingdom of Stormhold - a place of ruthless princes, evil witches, pirates and fallen stars. Against this background Cox's naive Tristan vows to bring back a fallen star to prove his devotion to Victoria.

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Stardust is a fabulous romantic adventure movie for audiences of all ages. It is best described as a cross between The Princess Bride and Time Bandits - but this is in no way to suggest that what we have here is a second-class remake. Indeed, Suffolk-based director Matthew Vaughn has crammed this bizarre fantasy chock-full of brilliants ideas and inventions while at the same time giving this visual feast the feel of a true Victorian fairytale fantasy.

Unusually for an all-star action adventure, the star name casting works a treat because they actually serve Vaughn's quirky script rather than engaging in a rather weary game on one-upmanship. Armed with a first-class script and a great cast, Vaughn keeps the movie flying along at breakneck speed, never allowing the audience to catch their breath. Instead he dazzles us with a barrage of beautifully judged cinematic magic tricks which amuse and beguile us while also telling the story in an ingenious way.

Of the galaxy of stars glowing in this dazzling film, it has to be said that Michelle Pfeiffer shines the brightest as Lamia, the evil witch that transforms from a beautiful woman into an aged crone as she expends energy seeking the source of eternal life. She gives such a spirited performance that her co-stars are forced to bring out something special out of the bag in order to compete.

Charlie Cox is great as the wide-eyed innocent hero and Claire Danes is suitably inscrutable as the beautiful embodiment of a fallen star. Ricky Gervais has a nicely judged cameo as a double-dealing black marketeer while Peter O'Toole brings just the right amount of black hearted villainy to his role of the self-serving king of Stormhold.

The princes are played with just the right amount of arrogant swagger by messers Strong, Flemyng and Everett and command the story whenever they are on screen. Sadly, the only weak link in this very strong chain is the normally reliable Robert De Niro, who proves, yet again, that he shouldn't offered a part in a comedy. Good comedy requires that lightest of light touches which De Niro unfortunately does not possess. His performance as Captain Shakespeare is far too crude when it should have been far quirkier - which would have been more in keeping with the rest of the film.

Happily De Niro's performance isn't bad enough to spoil what is by far one of the most imaginative movies of the year. A real treat for all the family this half term.

****

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