TL;DR – A pure fun ride from start to finish, the kind that leaves a smile on your face for a time after you finish watching it.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
There are some films out that that you can only watch once and then there are those that you can watch any time someone suggests it. Today we are looking at the latter, a film that is full of joy from start to finish.
So to set the scene, in the 1800s in Great Brittan there was a little town called Wall. It was a mostly unremarkable little hamlet bar for one odd feature an old wall that runs along its boundary that has an old man (David Kelly) guarding the only opening. Well, one day a young man from the village call Dunstan Thorn (Ben Barnes) decided to go see what was on the other side of the wall. Here he found a marketplace full of bizarre creatures for sale and also servant girl (Kate Magowan) enslaved to an evil witch Ditchwater Sal (Melanie Hill). It was almost a fever dream until nine months later when a baby arrived at Dunstan’s door. Eighteen years later and the young boy Tristan (Charlie Cox) is now grown up and trying to court Victoria (Sienna Miller) when he makes a suggestion that he chases down a falling star and brings it back as proof of his affections. The only problem is that the Star fell across the wall in Stormhold, the star is not an it but a she in Yvaine (Claire Danes), and also Stormhold’s king (Peter O’Toole) has just died and the remaining heirs are trying to track down the necklace that brought Yvaine crashing to the ground, and also also, there is a witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) who is very interested that a new star has fallen because she would very much like to cut out its heart and eat it.
This is a film that is an adaptation of the novel of the same title from Neil Gaiman and in my opinion a very successful one. When adapting a work you inevitably have to cut some plot points out and streamline the narrative and quite often that can lead to the adapted work losing what made it special in the first place. Here while a lot of the first part of the book has been condensed so that Tristan can get to Yvaine in the shortest possible time, the only major change is that the town Wall and the Market-by-the-Wall never meet every couple of years. Throughout the rest of the film, some characters are lost and others get more prominence but the only other major change is the ending. This is probably the biggest change from the book, but it also contextually fits the film. It is rare to see an adaptation change such a core part of the film and still work, but that is the charm of Stardust. As well as this, it is nice that in the age where fantasy tends to trend towards the more dark side of the spectrum, that we can get a film full of joy is something to be lauded.
All of this helps to combine together to create such an engaging story. This is a film where there is the main thrust of the story is Tristan and Yvaine making their way back to Wall, whilst also being almost completely unaware of the chaos following them in their wake. We have the witches wanting their third chance on being young again and their second chance at killing a star. We have the princes that are both racing to find the necklace around Yvaine’s neck but also fighting off each other’s assassination attempts. The rolling chaos gives the film a real drive to it as you never know when those agents of chaos will collide together. It also allows for these fascinating connecting moments when the different storylines meet together. So while there are sure a couple of plot points in the third act that don’t quite land as well as they would like, the whole ride from start to finish is such a delight because you don’t know what is around every corner.
It is kind of bonkers just how good this cast is. Like seriously Henry Cavill is in this film and you probably didn’t remember that because of how many huge names were attached to it or who have become major players in the years after. Claire Danes is at her best as Yvaine the fallen star that is quite put out with both being unceremonially dumped onto the planet and then captured by Tristan to be dragged to the women he apparently loves. For most people, this was their first introduction to Charlie Cox and what an introduction it was. He has to play a dude that is kind of an obnoxious pain in the arse but still make him likeable up until he discovers how not to be a total arse.
This is also a film that you can see the cast just having a ball with their characters as they get to act to the moon and back. Michelle Pfeiffer plays an evil witch wanting to be young again and is both the big bad but also the comic relief along with her two sisters Mormo (Joanna Scanlan) and Empusa (Sarah Alexander). Michelle has such great comedic timing but also can have real menace when she wants two and she plays both sides that that coin to perfection here. Then, of course, you have the pirate Captain Shakespeare of the Caspartine (Robert De Niro) who steals lighting and people who happen to end up on clouds for no reason. There is this wonderful interplay where Robert is playing a character with a deep secret that he is hiding from the crew so he is playing someone who has a real side to them but also a performance that he puts on. But then his crew all know his secret but not wanting to make captain feel bad they go along with it giving their own performance. We have Peter O’Toole as the dying king upset that his sons were not as murderous as he was, Mark Williams as Billy the Goat converted into a human, which is not a phrase you say every day, and Sienna Miller as the slightly self-obsessed Victoria who is not as one-note as she could have been because she is actually quite confident in what she wants.
Then, of course, we have the seven brothers all vying for the crown Prince Primus (Jason Flemyng), Secundus (Rupert Everett), Tertius (Mark Heap), Quartus (Julian Rhind-Tutt), Quintus (Adam Buxton), Sextus (David Walliams), and Septimus (Mark Strong). Now not only does this group give a good indication about the strength of the monarchy given their father named them after numbers to keep track of them, but most of the brothers are also dead before we even meet them. Having all the dead brothers hang around as ghosts and almost be a Greek Chorus is a really engaging way of both creating depth in the world but also giving you a way of conveying exposition and raising the stakes. This was also the first film that showed me just how good an actor Mark Strong is and he has been a delight in every other film I have seen him in since.
Add to such a delightful cast and story is a production team that is there every step of the way. The locations we get to visit help make the film with spots across England, Scotland, and Iceland all coming together to create the varied world of Stormhold. The costumes are all elegant, the sets, both those created and those on location, give the world depth and excitement, and it doesn’t hurt that it is all beautifully shot. There are also some really interesting scenarios created like when Tristan is fighting the not-really reanimated corpse of Septimus being controlled by Lamia. There is some wire work going on, but even then there is a lot that goes into that performance to make it look as good as it does. For me, I think the standout in the production is the musical score from Ilan Eshkeri, whose pulsating strings with an undercurrent of brass roaring brings this real power to the proceedings. Also, this might have the best use of the Can-can (The Infernal Galop) in cinema.
In the end, do we recommend Stardust? Absolutely. It is fun from start to finish and if you have never seen it before you are in for a real treat.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Stardust
Directed by – Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay by – Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn
Based on – Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Music by – Ilan Eshkeri
Cinematography by – Ben Davis
Edited by – Jon Harris
Production/Distribution Companies – Marv Films, Ingenious Film Partners & Paramount Pictures
Starring – Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mark Strong, Robert De Niro, Jason Flemyng, Rupert Everett, Ricky Gervais, Sienna Miller, Peter O’Toole, Ian McKellen, Kate Magowan, Joanna Scanlan, Sarah Alexander, Mark Heap, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Adam Buxton, David Walliams, Nathaniel Parker, Ben Barnes, Henry Cavill, David Kelly, Melanie Hill, Mark Williams, Jake Curran, Olivia Grant, George Innes & Dexter Fletcher.
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: PG; United Kingdom: PG; United States: PG-13