The Red Shoes (1948)

In Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s visually ravishing Technicolor masterpiece, a young ballerina is torn between the demands of love and art.

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Introduction

“My father took me to see this film in 1950. I wouldn’t know how to begin to explain what this film has meant to me over the years. It’s one of the true miracles of film history.”
Martin Scorsese, The Telegraph, 2011

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.

Powell and Pressburger pushed their marriage of film and music further in The Tales of Hoffman (1951). For a more recent ballet-induced breakdown, see Black Swan (2010).

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