The Secret of Moonacre

Director: Gabor Csupo
Starring: Dakota Blue Richards, Natascha McElhone, Ioan Gruffudd, Tim Curry and Juliet Stevenson
Distributor: Rialto Films
Runtime: 103 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Mild violence

It is a reasonable complaint to make that most of the movie action leads are male, from James Bond to Harry Potter. Hermione does make her claim but ultimately follows Harry. There have been Lara Croft and Elektra and the girls in The Golden Compass and Inkheart, but compared with the Supermen, the Iron Men, the Spidermen… the women have been outnumbered.

So, on that count alone, The Secret of Moonacre, stands out from the other action adventures and mythical and imaginary stories. As you watch it, you realise that this is the aim of the film-makers and that the boys are going to give this one a miss.

The film is based on a 1946 novel, The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge. I presume we can believe the publicists when they tell us that it has been published in 16 languages and was the favourite childhood book of J.K.Rowling. It won the Carnegie Medal for children’s literature in 1947 – and the publicist adds, ‘The book appeals to consecutive generations of girls’. In a poll by The Independent is was voted top book for 8-12 year olds and still sells over 30,000 copies each year.

That certainly establishes the niche market and the girls (maybe 7 to 14) will quite enjoy it. It does not have the scope of the wilder imagination stories. There are some wonderful special effects but the storytelling tends to be quite plain.

The setting is the 1870s, Victorian London and then the remote English coast. This means a lot of attention to décor and, especially, to dresses.

Our heroine is a strong-minded girl, Maria Merrywether, whose father’s death means that she has to live with her stern uncle. However, her father, having lost all his money and house through gambling, has bequeathed her a fantasy book about Moonacre. This comes alive for Maria: a wedding several hundred years earlier which was to be happy for a magical Moon Princess but was thwarted by a clash between her family, the De Noirs (who do dress in black), and her fiance’s family, the Merrywethers. The Moonacre Valley is cursed. The moon is growing larger and threatens to overwhelm the valley in darkness. A descendant of the De Noirs fled to marry a Merrywether (Maria’s uncle) but they quarrelled and she lives in the woods while he lives in his mansion, a grumpy man. Her family roam the forest, the father bent on vengeance.

So, that is the scenario for Maria to confront, overcome the curse, bring the lovers together and restore peace and light to the valley.

Dakota Blue Richards proved herself in The Golden Compass. Her difficulties are not so great this time but she faces them with determination. Natascha McElhone is the Moon Princess and the abandoned bride. Ioan Gruffudd is the crusty uncle while Tim Curry is De Noir. Juliet Stevenson is along as Maria’s protective guardian with a trapped wind problem – and takes over many a scene with her kind of pantomime dame comedy.

Gabor Csupo animated the early seasons of The Simpsons and The Rugrats and directed the fine children’s fable,The Bridge to Terabithia.

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