Emma Watson steps forward in “Ballet Shoes”


Before Christmas, I blogged about the upcoming BBC adaptation of
Noel Streatfeild’s
classic novel Ballet Shoes. Aired in
the U.K. on December 26, it starred Emma Watson in her first
non–Harry Potter role, as adopted orphan and budding film star
Pauline Fossil. Pauline has two equally — although differently — talented
adopted sisters, Petrova and Posy.

One of the reasons I was interested
in the adaptation was to see how it would treat the characters of Dr.
Smith and Dr. Jakes, female academics (played by Sense and Sensibility
costars Harriet Walter and Gemma Jones) who had always
seemed rather like life partners to me in the book. Here’s the illustration
of them from my copy of Ballet Shoes:

As it turned out, nothing was overtly
stated in the film about the doctors’ relationship. But they did turn
up at Pauline and her family’s house looking for rooms together —
and for anyone with any gaydar whatsoever, Dr. Smith’s short, slicked-back hair, occasional monocle, and fondness for scarves arranged like
ties should have been ringing a few bells. Unfortunately, the best picture
I could find of her, below left, is rather blurry:

But if you watch this trailer, she
and Dr. Jakes (above right) make an appearance at 00:14:



Aside from that, though, I have to
say I found the adaptation a bit disappointing. It looked glossy and
glowing, and had a good period atmosphere, but at 90 minutes, all the
relationships between the characters just seemed a bit too compressed
to get you to really care about them. I found that I kept comparing
it to the longer 1975 BBC adaptation, which, although perhaps rather
low-budget and stodgy in comparison, just seemed to have captured the
atmosphere of the book rather better.

The screenwriter, Heidi Thomas (who
was also responsible for the recent Cranford), had invented a love triangle between Garnie,
the Fossil girls’ guardian (played by Emilia Fox, above right)
and two of her lodgers, Theo Dane (Lucy Cohu of Meadowlands/Cape Wrath)
and Mr. Simpson (Marc Warren). Presumably this was intended
to help draw in adult viewers. But it had the effect of taking away
time from the three Fossil girls, Pauline, Petrova, and Posy, and so
there was less time available to build up convincing relationships between
them as sisters. Part of the essence of the book, as a family story
as well as a story about the theater, therefore seemed to be missing.

In her first non-Harry role, Emma
Watson showed some promise as an actress — particularly in a scene where
she had to break down in misery after she has lost her first professional
acting role due to bad behavior. But she was also a bit jittery and
mannered — I thought she might have done better with a director who
had encouraged her to relax a bit and just behave naturally. You can
view clips of her as Pauline in a fan-made music video here:



There is an interesting recent interview
with Watson here, where she discusses Ballet Shoes,
as well as her plans to study English and Philosophy at Cambridge.

As Pauline’s younger sisters, Petrova
and Posy, I actually thought the actresses Yasmin Paige and
Lucy Boynton
did rather better. Paige, in particular, came across
as warm, relaxed, and likeable, as the tomboy Petrova stuck in drama
school but dying to be an aviator:

Boynton, as the ballet-mad Posy,
restored some of the cheekiness and the near-arrogance that had been
missing from the 1975 adaptation:

The ending of Heidi Thomas’ adaptation
was marred by the same thing that marred the ending of her Cranford:
an over-enthusiasm for tying up loose ends, often in a very hurried
manner. But with its high-profile cast, bright visuals, and ’30s
jazz soundtrack, the film did have its enjoyable aspects. For U.K. viewers,
the DVD is currently available from Amazon.co.uk.

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