Cult Movies: The Red Shoes celebrates 75th anniversary with new Beyond The Mirror BFI exhibition

A scene from The Red Shoes with Moira Shearer wearing the iconic ballet pumps
The Red Shoes Powell and Pressburger's 1948 classic celebrated its 75th anniversary this year

THIS year marked the 75th anniversary of one of the most stylistically dazzling and visually stunning films ever committed to celluloid, The Red Shoes.

Film-makers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger crafted many a cinematic beauty in their time, from A Matter Of Life And Death to Black Narcissus, but few of them have managed to weave a spell down the decades quite like their 1948 masterpiece.

Taking inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless fairy story, it’s the dreamlike tale of a young dancer who loses herself in the magic of her artform. Victoria Page (played by real life prima ballerina Moira Shearer) lands a prime position with the Ballet Lermontov, playing a character obsessed with a pair of magical red slippers.

As that obsession grows, the lines between reality and fantasy begin to merge, and those red dancing shoes drive her to the point of almost total mental collapse.

Intense and dreamy in equal measure, The Red Shoes plays out like a fever dream for dance fans. Lush to look at and hugely ambitious in terms of both stylistic scope and artistic vision, it remains a powerful slice of fantasy cinema which has influenced all manner of weird and wonderful artistic endeavours.

To mark the film’s significant anniversary the BFI, having overseen a glorious renovation of the original 1948 print and re-released it back to cinemas, are rolling out a major UK-wide celebration of Powell and Pressburger’s wider work under the title of Cinema Unbound.

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Should you find yourself in London between now and January 7, I strongly advise you make a journey to the BFI Southbank to sample just one aspect of that lovingly curated project, The Red Shoes: Beyond The Mirror. A free exhibition that traces the intense and very personal journey the 21-year-old Moira Shearer made as she filmed The Red Shoes, it’s also a timely exploration of the many wild and multi-faceted strands of influence that the film has had upon the world of art since its release.

A sample of Hein Heckroth's original production designs for the ballet in The Red Shoes
The Red Shoes: Beyond The Mirror One of Hein Heckroth's original production designs for the ballet in The Red Shoes

There are more than 100 costume and production design drawings by Hein Heckroth and Ivor Beddoes to savour, alongside a remarkable array of original script treatments, rare behind the scenes photographs and costumes worn in the film.

Cineastes can even salivate over the sight of Michael Powell’s personal viewfinder and camera, and there is even original correspondence between the director and Kate Bush that relate to the singer’s personal passion for the film.

Other elements of the exhibition focus in on the lasting impact The Red Shoes has had on other creatives, with Kate Bush’s music featuring heavily alongside other fervent admirers including director Martin Scorsese, Margaret Atwood, Tilda Swinton and Greta Gerwig.

A photo showing some of the exhibits in The Red Shoes: Beyond The Mirror, including the titular ballet pumps
The Red Shoes: Beyond The Mirror Exhibition view from The Red Shoes: Beyond The Mirror. Picture by Sarah J Duncan (Sarah Dunan/Sarah J Duncan|British Film Inst)

Perhaps most impressively there are also innumerable personal items from Moira Shearer’s private estate, including items of clothing she wore during the film’s production. Standing proud at the very centre of it all are the iconic red ballet shoes that featured in the film.

As powerful tributes to a uniquely enchanting slice of English cinema history go, it’s hard to imagine anything more touching or appropriate, really.

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