Emma Watson steps forward in “Ballet Shoes”

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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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