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  Secret of Moonacre, The Keep On Shining
Year: 2008
Director: Gabor Csupo
Stars: Dakota Blue Richards, Ioan Gruffud, Natascha McElhone, Juliet Stevenson, Augustus Prew, Tim Curry, Michael Webber, George Mendel, Támas Tóth, György Szalthamari, Szabolcs Csák, Zoltan Markovits, Marcel Toth
Genre: Romance, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: When Maria Merryweather (Dakota Blue Richards) loses her father she is left penniless and inherits a tome entitled “The Ancient Chronicles of Moonacre Valley.” It recounts the tale of the magical Moon Princess who, betrayed by her father and the man she loved, scattered the long sought-after mystical moon pearls and placed a curse on the valley. Now Maria and her fussy governess Miss Heliotrope (Juliet Stevenson) arrive in the very same valley to live in a lavish, but joyless castle belonging to her stern and tormented uncle Sir Benjamin Merryweather (Ioan Gruffud) whom she discovers is locked in a feud with the black knight Coeur De Noir (Tim Curry) and his army of bowler hat and leather clad thugs, including his son Robin (Augustus Prew).

Every night someone leaves milk, biscuits and a beautiful new dress beside Maria’s bed. She soon notices other strange things happening around the castle like stars falling from the sky, a piano that plays by itself, Sir Benjamin’s faithful dog Wrolf appears as a huge black lion in the mirror, while a little white horse magically appears and disappears in the garden. The answers arrive when Maria discovers Loveday (Natascha McElhone), a woodland nymph with magic powers and a grudge against Sir Benjamin. She reveals Maria is a true moon princess, the only one able to retrieve the missing moon pearls and reunite the feuding families. But she has only until the five thousandth moon rises above Moonacre and that is mere days away.

This charming, British-French-Hungarian made family film is based on The Little White Horse, the award-winning 1946 children’s novel written by Elizabeth Goudge. Reputedly a favourite of J.K. Rowling’s, the novel was previously adapted as Moonacre (1994) a popular but now-forgotten British miniseries, but this big screen version is a far more lavish affair with beautiful storybook production design and sumptuous cinematography. Upholding a proud tradition in subtly feminist children’s stories, this has a little girl who is seemingly powerless before stubborn adults prove herself far more sensible and intuitive and becoming the catalyst that restores life to a moribund kingdom.

The script, co-written by Lucy Shuttleworth and Graham Alborough, is girly in the very best sense of the word, being perfectly tuned to the fantasies of young women. The plot hinges on a fractured romance and is driven by a nurturing theme, rife with adventure but gentle and benign with no outright villains, and a heroine who solves things with her wits and gets to wear an array of fantastic costumes. In only her second film, Dakota Blue Richards seems more assured here than she was in The Golden Compass (2007) and makes an endearingly forthright and compelling young lead. Rugrats co-creator Gabor Csupo includes wry humour - plus some quality comedy burping from Juliet Stevenson - but like all children’s worthy of merit, its strength lies in sincerity.

One must single out the design work for sidestepping the usual tedious Tolkien look for some truly imaginative costumes and sets. Though Csupo’s direction does not quite marshal the magic inherent the spellbinding writing, design and performances, he stages the denouement - wherein Moonacre is swept by a huge tidal wave led by charging white horses - with considerable poetry and panache.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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