The Seven Ravens

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Seven Ravens
"Nellis gives the story a welcome feminist slant, showing Bohdanka is a heroine to be reckoned with and presenting Gabriela as complex and lonely rather than just a twisted crone."

Alice Nellis takes a traditional but family friendly approach to this retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairy story about a young woman (Martha Issová) who takes on a quest in order to lift a curse from her brothers. We meet Bohdanka as a little girl (played variously by Marta Marie Leon and Sofi Vanyan), the daughter of a baker and his wife, who can't understand why her parents always have sadness in their eyes or why, no matter what her behaviour, they never get angry with her.

On hearing rumours about a curse, she heads into the woods and finds the house of the local witch Gabriela (Zuzana Bydzovská) - a woman surrounded by cats and who turns out to have had a hand in things from the start. She gives the girl a magic comb that, when placed in someone's hair, lets her sift through their memories. Returning home and waiting until her mum is asleep, Bohdanka tries the trick and discovers an angry outburst when her brothers were children accidentally turned them into ravens.

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Armed with the knowledge, Bohdanka goes back to the woods and discovers there is a way to reverse the spell. As is the way with quests, it's no easy feat and involves her giving up her power of speech, heading into the wilds and making seven shirts, the catch being that first she must pick an entire field of nettles by hand, dry them, make them into thread and weave the fabric before she can make the clothes. One saving grace of the task is that, on reaching the cave where she must live, she discovers a gigantic nest where her brothers sleep - miraculously transformed back into human shape during the hours of darkness - and the seven of them become her watchful companions.

This is a lengthy set-up and because it is so involved, it necessitates the use of a narrator who does slow things down about for the first 20 minutes or so. Once Bohdanka's 'mission impossible' begins, however, he recedes from the story letting the action take care of itself. Nellis gives the story a welcome feminist slant, showing Bohdanka is a heroine to be reckoned with and presenting Gabriela as complex and lonely rather than just a twisted crone. Although Bohdanka has lost the power of speech, she remains a capable and feisty presence, who is a mistress of her own destiny. Any child who has ever had the misfortune to brush too close to a nettle, let alone fall in a patch of them, can both share the horror of her task - as she rips them up by the handful despite the obvious pain - and appreciate her fierce determination.

There is, of course, a handsome prince, but he doesn't succumb to easy stereotypes either. Bartholomew (Lukás Príkazský) is pleasant looking enough - although, on the surface of it, not quite as traditionally 'fit' as his vain younger brother Norbert (Václav Neuzil) - but he has a pronounced stutter. Bodhanka discovers his attractiveness goes more than skin deep, however, and it's not long before the two of them are striking up a close friendship.

The story doesn't end there, as it is only then that the true villain of the piece, Queen Alexandra (Sabina Remundová) enters the fray, a schemer whose plotting could prove deadly. Nellis makes sure all the best elements of fairy tales are here, including courage, friendship and loyalty. There's also an admirable complexity to the dangers faced by Bohdanka and Bartholomew, who must not only prove themselves physically capable in a pinch but demonstrate fortitude of spirit and trust. Issová is great in the central role, bringing just the right amount of knowingness to her aside glances, while Remundová remains deliciously unpleasant and undeniably threatening even as Nellis makes her and Norbert the butt of some of the film's best jokes.

British children may not be familiar with this story when they enter the cinema but when they leave, they're likely to be ready to watch it all over again.

Reviewed on: 01 Nov 2016
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A young girl must save her brothers from a curse.

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