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.