About one hundred and fifty years ago, young Dunstan Thorn (Ben Barnes) lived in the village of Wall, so called because of the long wall near its borders that no man (or woman) was allowed to cross. But Dunstan had other ideas and ventured forth one night to the only hole in the wall, so after negotiating with the guard (David Kelly) - that is, charging past him - he discovered what was beyond. It was a magical kingdom where he found himself wandering through an fayre, and there he encountered a young woman (Kate Magowan) with a stall. She explained she was a princess held prisoner under a spell, but she took him into the caravan she was chained to and things progressed from there - if only they knew what the consequences would be...
As you can tell from that introduction, and that's barely the first five minutes, Stardust gets off to a busy start before the main storyline even gets underway. Nothing to do with David Essex, this was based on the novel by Neil Gaiman (also a producer on this project), it was adapted as a kind of Princess Bride for the new millennium by director Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman. It gets off to a rocky start and it's easy to lose patience with its supposedly lighthearted but actually somewhat arch tone, which appears to take the stance that nobody considers fairy tales worth taking seriously any more, so why should they?
However, after a while the plot begins to settle and the authentic magic of true fables softens the film's heart. Before you reach that point, you have to catch up with the life story of Tristan (Charlie Cox), son of Dunstan and the princess, who is now a callow youth of eighteen, unaware of his ancestry and and smitten with local beauty Victoria (Sienna Miller), a girl unworthy of his noble attentions. After persuading her to share a bottle of champagne with him one clear night, they witness a star falling behind the wall and Tristan rashly tells Victoria he will retrieve it for her. Little does he know that the star has plummetted to Earth for a reason.
That's because dying King (Peter O'Toole) has sent out a jewel to bring it down, and the prince who recaptures it will be King in his place. There aren't many princes left alive and the deceased ones, mainly played by British television comedy actors for some reason, are doomed to hang around as ghosts until the new King is crowned, but the evil Prince Septimus (Mark Strong) has it all worked out and plans to bump off his remaining brothers to seize his prize, uanware that he has a nephew, Tristan, up for the title. Not only that, but three sisters, all witches led by Lamia (Michelle Pfieffer), are set on grabbing the fallen star to boost their magical powers and regain their youth.
So you see, not short of incident is it? It so happens that the star is now in the womanly form of Yvaine (Claire Danes, grumpy) and Tristan has little trouble finding her, but more trouble convincing her to go along with him, resorting to a kind of kidnap with the promise to set her free once they meet up with Victoria again. It's an episodic movie, and goes for a kind of Time Bandits humour to find room for its guest stars (Ricky Gervais as a fence, Rupert Everett as a Prince, and so on) but after a while its decidedly slow-witted and less than heroic hero finds his feet and adopts the mantle of a proper fairy tale leading man. Throw in Robert De Niro finally finding a comic role that allows him to camp it up with a degree of efficiency, and a selection of performances that indicate all concerned are having a grand old time, and you have a film that grows on you, winning you over by discovering a freshness and romance halfway through. Music by Ilan Eshkeri.