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The Red Shoes is a 1948 British drama film written, directed, and produced by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, known collectively as The Archers. The film is about a ballerina who joins an established ballet company and becomes the lead dancer in a new ballet called The Red Shoes, itself based on the fairy tale "The Red Shoes" by Hans Christian Andersen.

The Red Shoes
The Red Shoes (1948 movie poster).jpg
original movie poster
Directed byMichael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Produced byMichael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Screenplay byMichael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Keith Winter
(additional dialogue)
Based onThe Red Shoes by
Hans Christian Andersen
StarringMoira Shearer
Anton Walbrook
Marius Goring
Music byBrian Easdale
CinematographyJack Cardiff
Edited byReginald Mills
Distributed byGeneral Film Distributors
Eagle-Lion Films
J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors (West Germany)
Release date
  • 6 September 1948 (1948-09-06) (UK)
  • 22 October 1948 (1948-10-22) (US)
Running time
133 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£505,581[1] or £551,927[2]
Box office$5 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[3][4]

The film stars Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, and Marius Goring, and features Robert Helpmann, Léonide Massine, and Ludmilla Tchérina, renowned dancers from the ballet world, as well as Esmond Knight and Albert Bassermann. It has original music by Brian Easdale and cinematography by Jack Cardiff, and is well regarded for its creative use of Technicolor.

At the 21st Academy Awards, The Red Shoes won awards for Best Original Score and Best Art Direction. It also had nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing. Today, it is regarded as one of the best films of Powell and Pressburger's partnership, and in 1999, it was voted the 9th greatest British film of all time by the British Film Institute. In 2017, a poll of 150 actors, directors, writers, producers and critics for Time Out magazine saw it ranked the 5th best British film ever.[5] Filmmakers such as Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg have named it one of their all-time favourite films.[6]

Original flyer for the film "The Red Shoes". From The Red Shoes (1948) Collection at Ailina Dance Archives.


At a performance by the Ballet Lermontov at Covent Garden Opera House, music student Julian is in attendance to hear the ballet score Heart of Fire, composed by his teacher, Professor Palmer. Separately present is Victoria 'Vicky' Page, a young, unknown dancer from an aristocratic background, with her aunt, Lady Neston. As Heart of Fire progresses, Julian recognises the music as one of his own compositions.

During the performance, Professor Palmer receives an invitation to an after-ballet party at Lady Neston's residence, also asking Boris Lermontov, the company impresario, to attend. Julian leaves the performance in disillusionment at his professor's plagiarism of his music. Lermontov and Vicki meet, and he invites her to a rehearsal of the company.

Julian has written to Lermontov to explain the circumstances behind Heart of Fire, but then tries to retrieve the letter. Lermontov's assistant Dimitri thwarts all attempts by Julian to gain entry to Lermontov's suite, but finally Lermontov gives Julian an audience. Julian says that he wishes to retrieve his letter before Lermontov has seen it, except that Lermontov has already read the letter.

Lermontov asks Julian to play one of his own works at the piano. After hearing Julian play, he hires him as a répétiteur for the company orchestra and assistant to the company's conductor, Livingstone Montague (known colloquially to the company as 'Livy'). Lermontov realises that Julian was the true composer of Heart of Fire.

Julian and Vicky arrive for work at the Ballet Lermontov on the same day. Later, Vicky dances with Ballet Rambert in a matinee performance of Swan Lake at the Mercury Theatre, Notting Hill Gate, in a production with a company led by Marie Rambert (who appears in the film as herself in a wordless cameo). Watching this performance, Lermontov realises her potential and invites Vicky to go with Ballet Lermontov to Paris and Monte Carlo. He decides to create a starring role for her in a new ballet, The Red Shoes, for which Julian is to provide the music.

The Red Shoes ballet is a resounding success and Lermontov revitalizes the company's repertoire with Vicky in the lead roles and Julian tasked with composing new scores. In the meantime, Vicky and Julian have fallen in love, but keep their relationship secret from Lermontov. Lermontov begins to have personal feelings toward Vicky; he resents the romance between her and Julian after learning of it. The impresario fires Julian; Vicky leaves the company with him. They marry and live in London, where Julian works on composing a new opera.

Original publicity still for the film "The Red Shoes". From The Red Shoes (1948) Collection at Ailina Dance Archives.

Some time later whilst travelling, Vicky receives a visit from Lermontov, who convinces her to return to the company to dance a revival of The Red Shoes. On opening night, Julian appears in her dressing room; he has left the première of his opera at Covent Garden to find her and take her back. Lermontov arrives; he and Julian contend for Vicky's affections, each one arguing that her true destiny is with him only. Torn between her love for Julian and her need to dance, she eventually chooses the latter.

Julian, realising that he has lost her, leaves for the railway station; Lermontov consoles Vicky and tries to turn her attention to the evening's performance. Vicky is escorted to the stage wearing the red shoes and, seemingly under their influence, turns and runs from the theatre. Julian, on the platform of the railway station, runs towards her. Vicky jumps from a balcony and falls in front of an approaching train.

Plot inconsistencyEdit

When Vicki jumps, she is wearing the red shoes which we saw her wearing as she is preparing in her dressing room, despite the fact that in the performance her character does not put them on until part way through the ballet. Powell and Pressburger themselves discussed this situation [7] and it has been much discussed since.[8] Powell decided that it was artistically "right" for Vicky to be wearing the red shoes at that point because if she is not wearing them, it takes away the ambiguity over why she died.[7]


Shaken, Lermontov appears before the audience to announce that, "Miss Page is unable to dance tonight – nor indeed any other night". As a mark of respect, the company performs The Red Shoes with a spotlight on the empty space where Vicky would have been.

While lying close to death on a stretcher, Vicky asks Julian to remove the red shoes, just as at the end of The Red Shoes ballet.

"The Red Shoes" balletEdit

The ballet roughly follows the Hans Christian Andersen story upon which it is based. A young woman sees a pair of red shoes in a shop window, which are offered to her by the demonic Shoemaker. She puts them on and begins to dance with her boyfriend. They go to a carnival, where she seemingly forgets about the boyfriend as she dances with every man she comes across. Her boyfriend is carried away and nothing is left of him but his image on a piece of cellophane, which she tramples.

She attempts to return home to her mother, but the red shoes, controlled by the Shoemaker, keep her dancing. She falls into a netherworld, where she dances with a piece of newspaper which turns briefly into her boyfriend. She is then beset by grotesque creatures, including the Shoemaker, who converge upon her in a manner reminiscent of The Rite of Spring. They abruptly disappear, leaving her alone. No matter where she flees, the shoes refuse to stop dancing.

Near death from exhaustion, her clothes now rags, she finds herself in front of a church where a funeral is in progress. The priest offers to help her. She motions to him to remove the shoes, and as he does so, she dies. He carries her into the church, and the Shoemaker retrieves the shoes, to be offered to his next victim.

Australian ballet star Robert Helpmann choreographed the ballet, played the role of the lead dancer of the Ballet Lermontov and danced the part of the boyfriend. Léonide Massine created his own choreography for his role as the Shoemaker. Brian Easdale composed the original music for the film, including the full ballet of The Red Shoes. Easdale conducted most of the music in the film, except for the Ballet of the Red Shoes, where Sir Thomas Beecham conducted the score and received prominent screen credit. Beecham's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was the featured orchestra for the film. Easdale received the 1948 Academy Award for Best Original Score, the first British film composer so honoured.[9]


Cast notes:

  • The role of Boris Lermontov, played by Anton Walbrook, was inspired in part by Sergei Diaghilev, the impresario who founded the Ballets Russes,[10] although there are also aspects about him drawn from the personalities of producer J. Arthur Rank and even director Michael Powell himself.[7]
  • The particular episode in Diaghilev's life that is said to have inspired the characterisation is his seeing the 14-year-old Diana Gould partnering Frederick Ashton in the première of his first ballet, Leda and the Swan. On the basis of this, Diaghilev invited her to join his company, but he died before that plan could come about.[11][12]


Pressburger originally wrote the screenplay for Alexander Korda as a vehicle for Korda's future wife Merle Oberon. After some years had passed without the film being made, Powell and Pressburger rewrote the screenplay with more emphasis on dancing and produced it themselves.

Powell and Pressburger decided early on that they had to use dancers who could act rather than actors who could dance a bit. To create a realistic feeling of a ballet company at work, and to be able to include a fifteen-minute ballet as the high point of the film, they created their own ballet company using many dancers from The Royal Ballet. The principal dancers were Robert Helpmann (who also choreographed the main ballet), Léonide Massine (who also choreographed the role of The Shoemaker), Ludmilla Tchérina and Moira Shearer.



The Red Shoes received positive reviews,[13] but did not at first earn much money in Britain, because the Rank Organisation could not afford to spend much on promotion due to severe financial problems exacerbated by the expense of Caesar and Cleopatra (1945).[14] Also, according to Powell, the Rank Organisation did not understand the artistic merits of the film,[14] and this strain in the relationship between The Archers and the Rank Organisation led to the end of the partnership between them, with The Archers moving to work for Alexander Korda.[7]

However, it became the sixth most popular film at the British box office in 1948.[15][16]

The film received only a limited release in the U.S., in a 110-week run at a single theatre.[17] In 1948 it earned $2.2 million in US rentals.[18] The success of this run convinced Universal Studios that The Red Shoes was a worthwhile film and they took over the U.S. distribution in 1951, The Red Shoes becoming one of the highest earning British films of all time.[19]


Contemporary reviews from ballet critics in the UK and in the US were mixed. Some wrote positively,[20] but others criticised the film for being clichéd and unrealistic.[21] The Red Shoes led to a few other films that treated ballet seriously. It was only after he made the studio executives watch The Red Shoes a few times that Gene Kelly was able to include ballet in An American in Paris.[14] After the film became a huge success in the U.S., MGM began plans to make a film titled Red Shoes Run Faster with red-haired dancer Lucille Bremer, but quickly scrapped the idea.[22]

The film is particularly known for its cinematography and especially the use of colour. In the introduction for The Criterion Collection DVD of Jean Renoir's The River, Martin Scorsese, who has long championed Powell and Pressburger's works, considers The Red Shoes and The River to be the two most beautiful colour films.

The Red Shoes underwent a complete restoration which took seven years. With fundraising spearheaded by Scorsese and his longtime editor (and Michael Powell's widow), Thelma Schoonmaker, Robert Gitt and Barbara Whitehead completed the restoration at the UCLA Film and Television Archive.[23] This restored version made its debut at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival,[24][25] followed soon after by a DVD and Blu-ray release in the UK by ITV DVD as well as screenings at festivals around the world.[26] The digitally restored print has subsequently been released in America by Criterion on DVD & Blu-ray.


Digital restorationEdit

In 2006, digital restoration of the film was undertaken by Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging. The digital copies were restored frame-by-frame at Prasad Corporation to remove dirt, tears, scratches and other flaws. The film was restored to its original look.[27][28][29]

Other mediaEdit

Musical theatre adaptation

The film was adapted by Jule Styne (music) and Marsha Norman (book and lyrics) into a Broadway musical, which was directed by Stanley Donen. The Red Shoes opened on 16 December 1993 at the Gershwin Theatre, with Steve Barton playing Boris Lermontov, Margaret Illmann playing Victoria Page, and Hugh Panaro playing Julian Craster. The choreography by Lar Lubovitch received the TDF's Astaire Award, but the musical closed after 51 previews and only five performances.

"The Red Shoes" is also referenced in A Chorus Line and its 1985 film adaptation as having inspired several of the characters to become dancers.

Ballet adaptation

The film was adapted as a ballet choreographed by Matthew Bourne and premiered in December 2016 in London. The production used music by Bernard Herrmann, including ‘Vertigo’, in place of Brian Easdale’s Oscar-winning score from the 1948 film.

Works inspired by the film

Kate Bush's song and album The Red Shoes was inspired by the film. The music was subsequently used in a film The Line, the Cross and the Curve (1993) made by Kate Bush, starring Miranda Richardson and Lindsay Kemp, which references the original film. The 1952 film The Firebird, directed by Hasse Ekman, is largely an homage to The Red Shoes.

In 2005, Ballet Ireland produced Diaghilev And The Red Shoes, a tribute to Sergei Diaghilev, the ballet impresario who founded Ballets Russes, consisting of excerpts from works made famous by that seminal company. An excerpt from The Red Shoes ballet was included, since Diaghilev was one inspiration for the character of Lermontov.[30] The 2012 novel Letters from Yelena, by British author Guy Mankowski, was reported to have been influenced by the film.[31] In 2013, Korean singer-songwriter IU released Modern Times, which featured the lead single "The Red Shoes", whose lyrics were inspired by the fairy tale, and whose music video was adapted from the film.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Sarah Street, Transatlantic Crossings: British Feature Films in the USA, Continuum, 2002 p 110
  2. ^ Kevin Macdonald (1994). Emeric Pressburger: The Life and Death of a Screenwriter. Faber and Faber. p. 295. ISBN 978-0-571-16853-8.
  3. ^ "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  4. ^ "Noteworthy Films Made In U.K." The West Australian. Perth: National Library of Australia. 17 January 1953. p. 27. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  5. ^ "The 100 best British films". Time Out. Retrieved 24 October 2017
  6. ^ Hutchinson, Pamela (6 September 2018). "Five Things to Know About The Red Shoes–Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Triumph Turns 70". BFI. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d Powell, Michael (1986). A Life in Movies. Heinemann. pp. 650–651. ISBN 0-434-59945-X.
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (1 January 2005). "The Red Shoes (1948)". The Chicago Sun-Times.
  9. ^ "For the record". The Observer. 1 October 2006. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  10. ^ Macaulay, Alastair (31 August 2008). "Love and Dance: Two Obsessions, One Classic Film". The New York Times.
  11. ^ Pritchard, Jane (January 2011). "Menuhin, Diana Rosamond Constance Grace Irene (nee Gould), Lady Menuhin (1912–2003)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn (subscription required). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 12 November 2012.
  12. ^ The Free Library:Diana Gould Menuhin
  13. ^ "The Red Shoes". Picturegoer. 28 August 1948. Retrieved 7 April 2006.
  14. ^ a b c Connelly, Mark (2005). The Red Shoes. TCM British Film Guide. London: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 1-84511-071-4.
  15. ^ "THE STARRY WAY". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane: National Library of Australia. 8 January 1949. p. 2. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  16. ^ Thumim, Janet. "The popular cash and culture in the postwar British cinema industry". Screen. Vol. 32 no. 3. p. 258.
  17. ^ At the Bijou Theatre, 209 West 45th Street, New York City
  18. ^ "Top Grossers of 1948", Variety 5 January 1949 p 46
  19. ^ Wood, Alan (23 February 1952). "The Inside Story of Mr. Rank". Everybody's Weekly. Retrieved 1 January 2008.
  20. ^ Ambler, Maurice (January 1948). "Film Ballet – A New Art Form?". Ballet Today. Retrieved 7 April 2006.
  21. ^ "Some Opinions on 'The Red Shoes' (Film)". Ballet Magazine. August–September 1948. Retrieved 7 April 2006.
  22. ^ Fordin, Hugh (1996). M-G-M's Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit. Da Capo Press. p. 194. ISBN 978-0-306-80730-5.
  23. ^ Turan, Kenneth (17 May 2009). "LA Times: 'The Red Shoes' shines anew". LA Times. Retrieved 22 June 2009.
  24. ^ "Festival de Cannes 2009 – The Red Shoes". Retrieved 4 April 2010.
  25. ^ Calonge, Juan (23 May 2009). "Restored Red Shoes Wows Cannes".
  26. ^ "P&P Events & Excursions". Retrieved 4 April 2010.
  27. ^, Dancing to the Music of Time, The Red Shoes Restored, Robert Gitt, Preservation officer, UCLA Film & television archive
  28. ^, Digital film restoration
  29. ^, Digital Film Restoration Archived 13 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ Berry, Kevin (4 November 2005). "Diaghilev And The Red Shoes". The Stage.
  31. ^ Neilson, Marjorie (1 October 2012). "New Books: Letters from Yelena". New Books Magazine. Retrieved 28 May 2017.

External linksEdit