There is something joyfully engaging about The Nutcracker as a ballet. It is a staple of numerous television schedules throughout the festive period and the central suite from Tchaikovsky's most famous score is so familiar as to be part of everyone's psyche. So why do we need a steady stream of film versions?
This particular film from 1986, from a performance originally given in 1983, is without doubt technically proficient and certainly delivers a colourful and detailed version of the famous story. The sets and costumes are beautifully designed, with one exception to be covered later, and the action moves constantly along at a decent pace. The issue is that everything just feels very flat and lifeless. Part of the problem could be in the casting. Despite the clear talent for their art, the cast are dancers and not actors and as such there is little emotional depth or sense of conviction. A lot of the performances feel as if the cast are “going through the motions”, and while those motions are often impressive and always tightly choreographed, they don't invite the viewer in, leaving a distinctly distant aftertaste.
The figure of Drosselmeyer is also a curiosity. The central story is framed by this character designing and skilfully constructing the toys he will later present to the children, and which ultimately come to life. In this film, Drosselmeyer's appearance is more akin to the nefarious Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and carries something of a sinister air with every appearance.
On the whole, there is little in Carroll Ballard’s film to criticise. Everything that should be included is, and is delivered with competence and skill. There’s just very little to get excited about here and it’s difficult to imagine who will buy it.
NUTCRACKER: THE MOTION PICTURE / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: CARROLL BALLARD / SCREENPLAY: KENT STOWELL, MAURICE SENDAK / STARRING: HUGH BIGNEY, VANESSA SHARP, PATRICIA BARKER, WADE WALTHALL, MAIA ROSAL / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 16TH