An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Stardust (2007)
- Credit: Archant
Films with re-watch value, movies with a unique quality, will become the classics of the future. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies that may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.
Stardust; dir: Matthew Vaughn; starring: Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Sienna Miller, Kate Magowan, Mark Strong, Rupert Everett, Ricky Gervais, Peter O’Toole. Cert: PG (2007)
Ambitious and entertaining, this gloriously dark and twisted cinematic romp is best described as a fairytale for adults. It’s sumptuous production design, all-star casting and bravura storytelling style remind us those imaginative, early 1980s movies like Time Bandits and The Princess Bride, but this wins out because it has a darker edge to it and a more ‘grown up’ or complex narrative.
It first comes across as a romantic, magical fantasy with a nice line in quirky dialogue but as the film develops there is something more to it than first meets the eye. This is a film about a power struggle, a dark story about people willing to commit murder to get what they need to secure their future.
There is a strong Shakespearean element to story which is reinforced by the fact that Robert De Niro’s character is called Captain Shakespeare and there are three witches, led by Michelle Pfeiffer, charging across the landscape searching for life everlasting.
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Based on a book by cult author Neil Gaiman, and adapted for the screen by Jane Goldman, Stardust explores a world where our Earth is separated from an alternative reality by a crumbling brick wall guarded by an aging villager.
In what appears to be mid-1800s England, Tristan (Charlie Cox) wants to impress the popular but snooty girl of the village of Wall (Sienna Miller).
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He vows to find a fallen star for her, but this involves crossing a wall into a forbidden land called Stormhold. The star in question has human form and is the beautiful Yvaine (Claire Danes), who’s also being pursued by a manic witch (Pfeiffer) seeking immortality and a gaggle of blood-thirsty princes (Strong, Flemyng, Everett, and others) all busily bumping one another off so they can inherit their father’s kingdom.
Cox may only be a shop boy but he has guts and ingenuity. He may be dragging his fallen star home but all sorts of mayhem is going on around him which he is not aware of. The cast are having a wonderful time getting their teeth stuck into larger-than-life characters and, although the temptation may be great, they never ham it up. In order for fantasy to work, even comic fantasy, you have to play it straight and director Matthew Vaughn keeps everything taut and pacy.
He packs in a lot of incident into the movie, switching between three competing storylines, which never become confusing, before drawing them all together for a quite breath-taking finale – which bears no relation to the original novel, but, in some circles has been considered better.
Charlie Cox has the hardest job in the movie and acquits himself well. It’s really difficult to make an innocent character interesting but Cox puts a lot of layers into his performance which encourages the audience to really root for him.
The star of the film has to be Michelle Pfeiffer as the evil sorceress Lamia, who ages from preening beauty to vengeful crone, complete with severe hair loss, before our very eyes. Mark Strong’s ruthless prince Septimus is chillingly ambitious as he coldly dispatches his brothers to secure his claim to Peter O’Toole’s throne. His less successful sibling then become an expanding Greek chorus who comment on his evil deeds.
Robert DeNiro finally gets to prove that he can do comedy when he turns up as a cross-dressing sky pirate who offers Tristian and Yvaine a lift in his storm-chasing Zeppelin. There’s even a cameo from Ricky Gervais as a sleazy lightning trader that proves that he too can be funny when he is engaged in a supporting role.
Every fairytale requires a journey to redemption/understanding and along the way we meet a slave girl (Magowan) who’s far more involved than anyone knows.
This film is a feast for the senses, jam-packed with inventive visual flourishes, a deliciously funny script and enough jeopardy to keep the most jaded blockbuster-fan on the edge of their seats. Stardust is one of those rare films that appear to offer everything: a cracking script, grisly murders, an innocent romance, a quest for identity, Shakespearian-style witches and the knowledge that if you want to buy a decent ring you need to go to Ipswich.