Snow White And The Huntsman review: Charlize Theron makes a mean evil Queen

Charlize makes a mean Queen: Theron's evil stepmother will leave you quaking in your boots



10:59 GMT, 1 June 2012

Snow White And The Huntsman (12A)

This week brought us films by celebrated home-grown veterans Ridley Scott and Ken Loach, but the highlight was our first sighting of an exciting new British director.

Like Scott, Rupert Sanders comes from the world of commercials. His visual flair more than compensates for a few moments of weak storytelling, and his intelligent twist on the Snow White legend gets closer to the spirit of the Brothers Grimm than any previous Hollywood movie. Disneyfied, it is not.

Sanders’s influences are clear and suggest he has taste as well as talent. There are strong echoes of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy and Hayao Miyazaki’s dreamlike cartoon Princess Mononoke. And it must be the muddiest fantasy since Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky.

Charlize Theron in Snow White and the Huntsman

Charlize Theron in Snow White and the Huntsman

If you liked any or all of those, you should enjoy this as much as I did.

The special effects are superbly fantastical and range from beautiful to nightmarish: the wicked queen explodes into a flock of ravens or emerges from liquescent material as menacingly as the villain in Terminator 2; far-from-cute fairies dart like mini-demons through enchanted forests, hitching lifts on rabbits, magpies and even a moss-covered tortoise.

There’s more visual flair here than ever there was in Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland.

The action sequences are thrilling and the British locations breathtaking. As in Peter Jackson’s Tolkien trilogy, most of the sets are built rather than computer-generated, which gives them a feeling of authenticity as well as solidity.

Production designer Dominic Watson somehow managed to create most of this fantasy world at Pinewood Studios, for which he deserves enormous credit.

Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Attwood also does terrific work: some of the wicked queen’s costumes are among her finest creations.

Springing into action: Kristen Stewart in a scene from the movie with Chris Hemsworth

Springing into action: Kristen Stewart in a scene from the movie with Chris Hemsworth

As a bonus, screenwriters Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini endow the proceedings with a measure of humanity and pathos, though for my money I could have done with a touch more humour.

Star of the show is undoubtedly Charlize Theron as the wicked queen obsessed with preserving her looks and her own, highly individual take on women’s rights. ‘Men use women! Beauty is power!’ she hisses, while assassinating her new husband the king, Snow White’s father.

Where Julia Roberts in Tarsem Singh’s version of the Snow White legend Mirror Mirror was content to give a wink-wink panto performance, Theron goes for the full Joan Crawford — and she’s genuinely scary.

One unusual gloss on her character is that she’s not so much evil as delusional. A couple of telling cutaways show that the mirror on her wall is not real but a psychotic extension of herself. As egotistical as Nancy Dell’Olio and even more high-maintenance, she steals youth and beauty from her subjects (including Lily Cole) by sucking the life out of them, like one of J. K.Rowling’s Dementors.

Then the mirror gives her the bright dieting idea of eating the heart of her stepdaughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart, the under-rated actress from the Twilight series). As you may already have gathered, this fairy tale is a lot tougher and less child-friendly than most fantasies, and the 12A certificate might easily have been a 15.

Snow White escapes assassination and runs away into some exceptionally creepy woods where she teams up with a boozy huntsman still mourning the death of his wife.

Promotional trail: Kristen was joined by co-star Charlize Theron at the recent Madroid premiere of the film

Promotional trail: Kristen was joined by co-star Charlize Theron at the recent Madroid premiere of the film

He’s hunky Chris Hemsworth from Thor and, needless to say, Ms White and he are attracted to each other, though some of this seems to be on the cutting-room floor and the sexual chemistry between the two actors isn’t great.

Moral support and belated comedy come from some distinctly uncuddly dwarves, all eight of them — no expense spared, you see

Among these tough guys, thanks to some excellent electronic trickery, are such British character acting stalwarts as Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan, Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost, Toby Jones and Ian McShane. Let’s hope the dwarves in Peter Jackson’s upcoming film of The Hobbit are half as much fun.

Like everyone else in the movie, the dwarves are coping with a sense of loss — they’ve mislaid their mining jobs and self-esteem — which ties in neatly with the underlying themes of the original fairy tale and our present time of belt-tightening and austerity.

At 126 minutes it’s overlong, and even at this length it doesn’t give all the actors enough to do. Two — the brother of the wicked queen and Snow White’s childhood sweetheart — feel underwritten, and the rushed action finale leaves the huntsman-Snow White relationship disappointingly unresolved. I gather there are plans for a sequel.

But the performances are strong and create a consistent world that’s recognisably British in style. Theron, a South African, and Stewart, an American, offer flawless English accents, while the Australian Hemsworth succeeds in sounding both Scottish and comprehensible, which is more than the actors in Ken Loach’s latest, The Angels’ Share, manage.

Ever since the success of Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter, Hollywood has been interested in finding a new take on old fairy tales. That probably has something to do with the heroes being instantly recognisable as brand names and the stories being hundreds of years out of copyright.

As well as Mirror Mirror, we’ve had Red Riding Hood, Beastly and Disney’s Tangled. Though Snow White And The Huntsman is aimed more at adults and unsuitable for most children under 12, it is easily the classiest of the bunch.

And we’re going to be hearing a lot more of Rupert Sanders.