Once upon a time (last Christmas to be precise) I rewatched three terrific Eastern European fairytale movies, including The Singing Ringing Tree, which is a great favourite of mine. As I sat enthralled, a magical idea materialised: a festive feast of folk and fairy tales at cinemas across the land.
There’s something about fairy tales that chimes with all the best things about Christmas. They radiate the cosy glow of childhood, family and nostalgia (for those of us of a certain age), while kindling magic, wonderment, hope and joy. And Santa himself would surely applaud their encouraging message that good conduct will be rewarded. To add spice to what might otherwise be a rather sickly confection, they also have a touch of the dark thrills that have made ghost stories an equally popular Yuletide ritual. In that respect, this programme is a sequel to our winter 2016 season, A Warning to the Curious.
Although fairytale traditions are now indelibly associated with the nursery, it’s worth remembering these stories were never just for kids – at least, not until the nineteenth-century collectors and moralisers got at them. Many of us sensed that, even as youngsters. As a child, I was particularly enamoured of Andrew Lang’s marvellous twelve-volume series of ‘coloured’ fairy books (1889–1910), a beguilingly motley jumble of tales from around the world. Yet, despite Lang’s considerate excision of any traditional nasty bits (these books were aimed at women and children, after all!) illustrator H. J. Ford clearly didn’t get the memo and re-emphasised some thrillingly gruesome scenes that proved an endless source of fascination for me. In recent decades, writers and filmmakers have reclaimed some of fairy tales’ darker origins and themes, stripping the candy coating from the witch’s house and penetrating its perilous portal to imbibe, as I did then, electrifying elixirs from the seething cauldron within.
This Christmas, whether you prefer your candies sweet or sour, it’s our pleasure to invite you to take your pick from a mouth-watering selection of classic and contemporary films from Britain, America, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Sweden and Japan.
We launch the season in our Vintage Sunday strand with The Red Shoes, Powell and Pressburger’s unsurpassed reinvention of the Hans Christian Andersen classic. Also in Vintage, Jean Cocteau’s La Belle Et La Bête casts its beautiful, beastly, and enduring magic. Neil Jordan leads us into darker territory in The Company Of Wolves, his powerful visualisation of Angela Carter’s revisionist take on Little Red Riding Hood. Studio Ghibli’s exquisite The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya plays out a bittersweet yet uplifting moral and spiritual parable. Disney’s first feature-length animation, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, stands tall on its eightieth anniversary, and The Singing Ringing Tree peals out the transformative joy of togetherness.
Discover Tuesdays plays host to Matteo Garrone’s star-studded Tale Of Tales, an ingenious and witty rummage through Giambattista Basile’s outlandish, satirical and sometimes bawdy seventeenth-century Italian assortment box. To whet your appetite for Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming The Shape Of Water (released 2018), we revisit his remarkable chthonic fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth. Like The Company Of Wolves, these entries are definitely not for kids!
Culture Shock invites you to meet David Bowie’s Goblin King and a cast of frolicsome ’80s puppetry in Jim Henson’s kooky Labyrinth, and Tim Burton spins one of his most original and beguiling fairy stories in Edward Scissorhands. Look out for special 70mm shows of Edward at Picturehouse Central.
As an added treat, we have an opulent ballet production of perennial festive favourite The Nutcracker, broadcast live from the Royal Opera House. Choreography figures in quite a different way in Gingerella (RockaFela), Alex Reuben’s radical reconsidering of dance and the Cinderella story, which screens at selected sites. Also showing in selected cinemas is fun-filled festive fantasy The Box Of Delights. This is a rare opportunity to binge-watch the complete six-part cult television series on the big screen, so pop it in your diary now as the chance may never come again.
In ‘stop press’ additions to the season, we’re delighted to be able to bring a sparkling new restoration of Ingmar Bergman’s Oscar-nominated screen adaptation of The Magic Flute to selected cinemas. The charming Czech fantasy Three Wishes For Cinderella screens at The Gate, and a startlingly original take on the Snow White story comes to Liverpool and Picturehouse Central in the shape of Blancanieves. There are further special events in the offing, so do keep an eye on local listings.
In true Christmas spirit, we have special treats for young princes, princesses, goblins and imps (though we reckon adults will enjoy them too). Our Toddler Time shows for pre-school children include loveable modern monster double bill The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child, based on Julia Donaldson’s inspired reworking of a Chinese folk tale. Kids’ Club offerings include Shrek, with its gleeful skewering of time-honoured fairy tale conventions. These are further parodied in Enchanted, where an evil curse banishes Amy Adams’s fairyland princess to modern day New York. The Princess And The Frog offers another contemporary take on an oft-told tale, while the festive phenomenon that is Frozen returns to the big screen supported by a brilliant, brand new seasonal short, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.