A duff nut to crack...
C HRISTMAS comes but once a year and, thankfully, so too does a grand folly like The Nutcracker And The Four Realms. Inspired by The Nutcracker ballet and ETA Hoffman’s short story The Nutcracker And The Mouse King, Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston’s lavish adventure is a glittering bauble: dazzling to the eye but completely hollow.
Gorgeous production design, Jenny Beavan’s ravishing costumes and a miasma of eye-popping digital effects, coupled with a starry cast including Oscar winners Dame Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman, come with a price tag in excess of £100m.
Cinematographer Linus Sandgren captures every luxurious flourish of creative endeavour in his sweeping camerawork, including a protracted theatrical sequence featuring American Ballet Theatre’s principal dancer Misty Copeland which pirouettes tantalisingly close to his Oscar-winning virtuosity on La La Land.
Sugary sentiment pervades every page of Ashleigh Powell’s muddled script and James Newton Howard’s lush score, which incorporates excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s ballet including the unmistakable pitter patter of Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy.
Clara Stahlbaum (Mackenzie Foy) retires to her clockwork inventions in the attic following the death of her mother (Anna Madeley). Father (Matthew Macfadyen) is choked with grief and unable to buoy the spirits of Clara and siblings Louise (Ellie Bamber) and Fritz (Tom Sweet) in their darkest hour.
The family adheres to tradition and attends the Christmas ball thrown by the children’s godfather, Drosselmeyer (Freeman). He tenderly dispatches Clara to the garden for her present.
She follows a length of twine tied to the bandstand and emerges in a snow-laden wonderland – the gateway to four realms that exist alongside our own. Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley) from the land of sweets, Shiver (Richard E Grant) from the land of snowflakes and Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez) from the land of flowers, preside over three of these kingdoms in blissful harmony.
Alas, the fourth realm – the land of amusements – is the decaying domain of Mother Ginger (Mirren). She has declared war on her neighbours and is marshalling an army of vermin.
“Mother Ginger began this war. I hope you’ll be the one to end it,” smiles Sugar Plum, cajoling Clara into battle alongside a handsome soldier called Phillip ( Jayden Fowora-Knight).
The Nutcracker And The Four Realms is bloated and heavy-handed in every respect except for characterisation, which is painfully weak.
Foy works tirelessly to ground her teenage heroine’s rites of passage in despair and self-doubt but any subtleties are overwhelmed by the expensive pantomime whirling around her.
Mackenzie Foy as Clara and Keira Knightley as The Sugar Plum Fairy THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS (PG) ★★ ★★★
Helen Mirren as Mother Ginger