Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

"Much like Danes’ hair, Stardust is shiny, floaty and full of interesting swings."

So, you’re Matthew Vaughn. You’ve helped Guy Ritchie make Brit crime flicks cool again by producing both Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. You’ve gone on to direct one of the better home-grown gangster yarns of recent memory (making a star of Daniel Craig) with Layer Cake. Having dropped out of X-Men 3 at the last minute and been briefly linked to Thor, the question is; what do you do now?

Well, it's fair to say a few collective brows were raised when he opted for a frothy magical fairytale. Trendy cockney geezers and convoluted drug yarns we could have seen coming, spell-casting sorceresses and mythical questing we could not. Regardless though, as an eventual sophomore effort, it’s pretty good.

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Not quite satisfied with progressing to the big-budget leagues of directing, Vaughn also decided to take on screenwriting duties. Together with Jane Goldman (that’s Mrs Jonathon Ross to the uneducated), the pair adapt popular scribe Neil Gaiman’s comic-come-novel with warm charm and a more adult tone than expected. Though attempting to “do Princess Bride with a Midnight Run overtone” and a bit uneven, there’s plenty of welcome originality and sparkly invention.

In Victorian England, frustrated shop boy Tristan (Charlie Cox) lives in a village called Wall which borders the magical kingdom of Stormhold. Hoping to win the heart of a local girl (Sienna Miller) he loves a week before she is to be married, Tristan promises to retrieve a fallen star that has landed in the realm. However, things are complicated when it turns out the star is actually a young girl (Claire Danes) and that the ageing evil witch-queen Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) wants to take her heart in order to gain eternal youth.

The special effects aren’t jaw-dropping, Lord Of The Rings standard – but they look fantastic enough to immerse us in this world. In fact, it’s the effects not used that work best as Vaughn purposefully uses as little CGI as possible to let the what-you-see-is-what-is-there locations speak for themselves. The only slight spoiler is that too often the camera soars up to a bird’s eyes POV to zoom across and drop at the next scene. It’s cool once or twice, but soon we feel like Superman is flying over Stormhold.

Sure, more time with the lead would have been better, but the comparatively unknown Cox is endearing and sells the transformation from nice-guy nobody to swashbuckling prince. This is all the more impressive when you consider the wealth of seasoned talent round about – Danes perfectly cast as our shiny star, Mark Strong as the stern-pussed king-in-waiting, Pfeiffer making a comeback of sorts as the villain of the piece.

Not satisfied? Well we’ve got Ian McKellen narrating (could his voice be more perfect for this?), Mark Heap stealing all his blink-and-you’ll-miss-them scenes and Ricky Gervais even managing to make his shtick work in a land where unicorns exist. While De Niro playing a campy, cross-dressing Shakespeare will have the cynics claiming he’s tossing his career out the flying air balloon (isn’t he allowed to have any fun?), even the teensy-tiny roles are filled with the likes of Rupert Everett, David Walliams, Jason Flemyng, Peter O’Toole, Melanie Hill and Dexter Fletcher.

Much like Danes’ hair, Stardust is shiny, floaty and full of interesting swings. Perhaps not the bottled lightning or Babylon candle it could have been, there are still a few moments of magic.

Reviewed on: 19 Jul 2009
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Fantasy epic about a boy who goes looking for a falling star.
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Read more Stardust reviews:

Tony Sullivan ****1/2
Chris ****1/2

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Writer: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, based on the graphic novel by Charles Vess and Neil Gaiman

Starring: Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sienna Miller, Robert De Niro, Mark Strong, Ricky Gervais, Peter O'Toole, Sarah Alexander, Jason Flemyng, Rupert Everett, Melanie Hill, Kate Magowan, voice of Ian McKellan

Year: 2007

Runtime: 130 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK/US


EIFF 2007

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The Princess Bride