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Classic Woman-centric Movie Review: The Red Shoes (1948)

The film The Red Shoes, made in 1948, is not only loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same name, but it was also inspired by an event in the life of British ballerina Diana Gould.  The film stars another famous British ballet dancer, Moira Shearer, and Anton Holbrook and Marius Goring.

Victoria Page (Shearer)  is a young woman from an aristocratic family who dreams of ballet dancing.  Her aunt invites ballet master, Boris Lermentov (Walbrook), to a party, at which Victoria ends up auditioning for him.  He takes her on as a student, and she practices with the rest of his company.  During a performance of Swan Lake, Boris sees Victoria’s potential and decides to allow her to join the ballet company.

Film poster for The Red Shoes
Poster from the film. Image via Wikipedia.

Meanwhile, young composer Julian Craster (Goring) collaborates with Boris to create a new ballet, The Red Shoes.  Julian and Victoria have many disagreements about the music of the ballet and how it should be choreographed, but as they work together, they begin to fall in love.  Julian ends up writing the music for the ballet with Victoria as his muse, and the ballet becomes a great success.  Boris, though, now seeing that the couple are in love, thinks that Julian will only distract Victoria from her work, and he fires Julian while retaining the rights to the ballet.  Victoria leaves the ballet and marries Julian, and she dances while he works on a new opera. Boris approaches her, though, and asks her to dance The Red Shoes – the ballet that made her famous – once again.  Torn between her love for her husband and her professional and artistic ambitions, Victoria eventually breaks down.

The film addresses the question of whether or not a woman can have a fulfilling  career and pursue her own ambitions while being supportive of her partner as he pursues his.  Clearly this is something that Victoria wanted, but the dynamics with her ballet manager and her desire to have a personal life conflict with it.  Dancing in the ballet that her husband wrote for her is what Victoria believes to be part of her professional and artistic goals, and she is also able to bridge the gap between that and her love for her husband.  While she might be able to have those moments of perfection onstage, she certainly can’t have either one in real life.  The red ballet shoes represent Victoria’s desire to both continue dancing and have a meaningful life with her husband, but as she can’t have both, the red shoes lead her to her end.

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