Here's a film genetically engineered to appeal to the seven-year-old wannabe princess inside us all. So bathed in glitter and sparkle and candy it should come with a sugar warning, this has so much to dazzle the eye that you may need to stare at a nice white wall afterwards to recalibrate. But underneath the tulle there's a surprisingly coherent story, and some good character actors to add a little emotional depth.
Our setting is a vision of Victorian London usually confined to a better class of Christmas card, full of glowing, candle-lit trees and absolutely no poverty. Our heroine Clara (Foy, a mini Anne Hathaway) is a refreshingly science-minded young lady who's mourning her mother and lashing out at her heartbroken father (Matthew Macfadyen, doing a lot with very little). Searching for the key to her mother’s legacy in her eccentric godfather’s (Morgan Freeman) house, she stumbles into a Narnia-resembling fantasy world of winter. There, she’s drawn into a conflict between the terrifying Mother Ginger (Mirren) and the saccharine Sugar Plum (Knightley) with only a plucky Nutcracker, Captain Phillip (likeable newcomer Fowora-Knight) to help.
It really will enchant little girls.
The costumes, sets and design are glorious, and there’s a mid-film ballet break starring prima donna Misty Copeland, so it’s an unalloyed treat for the eyes. Sometimes you may even wish for a little less plot so you can take it all in. But while the story shows signs of major chopping and changing — Joe Johnston and Lasse Hallström are both credited directors; Meera Syal pops up at the beginning and is never seen again — it just-about-coherently tells a tale about grief and loss and carrying on despite both.
When the film sticks close to that emotional through-line — and it largely does — it works, helped by a villain who's clearly having a whale of a time. Also, it really will enchant little girls. Imagine if someone took Frozen, threw in a bit more Cinderella and added six more spoonfuls of sugar on top. It won’t be for everyone, but for those with a cinematic sweet tooth it’s going to be a favourite.