The Magic Flute (3 stars)

The Magic Flute

(PG) 138 min


Kenneth Branagh’s version of As You Like It was the most misconceived Shakespeare movie in living memory. News that he planned to transfer Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute to the battlefields of World War One did not bode well, even with a sparky new libretto by Stephen Fry. However, despite labouring through Mozart’s Masonic imagery in the second half, Branagh’s concept holds strong, as soldier Tamino (Joseph Kaiser) enters a dreamlike world where he must bring peace by finding love in the midst of death.

This is classical karaoke with Branagh doing a passable impersonation of Ken Russell. However, with the exception of sequences featuring the Queen of the Night (Lyubov Petrova) – arriving on top of a tank, lashing her daughter to a burning windmill – Branagh’s visual imagination always falls short of the wild brilliance of the eternal enfant terrible. Elsewhere, long tracking shots through the trenches (as in Paths Of Glory) don’t make him Kubrick; nor do songs in a graveyard match the poignancy of Attenborough’s Oh! What A Lovely War. The singing is wonderful but, René Pape’s Sarastro aside, the acting is weak, and so newcomers to opera will struggle to make a connection with the characters. At least Branagh’s production isn’t rooted in stage origins – this Magic Flute was conceived as pure cinema from the very first note.

Selected release from Fri 30 Nov.

The Magic Flute

  • 3 stars
  • 2006
  • UK / France
  • 2h 18min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
  • Written by: Emanuel Schikaneder (Libretto), Kenneth Branagh (Adapted for the screen by), Stephen Fry (English libretto and dialogue), Kenneth Branagh & Stephen Fry (screenplay)
  • Cast: Joseph Kaiser, Amy Carson, René Pape, Lyubov Petrova, Benjamin Jay Davis, Silvia Moi, Tom Randle, Ben Uttley, Teuta Koço, Louise Callinan, Kim-Marie Woodhouse, Rodney Clarke, Charne Rochford

This risky cinematic venture transfers Mozart's opera to the battlefields of WWI. The film's concepts hold strong, creating a dreamlike world in which soldier Tamino (Kaiser) must bring peace by finding love in the midst of death. But while the singing is wonderful, the acting is weak, and Branagh's visual imagination…