A vivid dream exploration of Moira Shearer’s heart and mind, just before and after she agreed to star in Powell and Pressburger’s beloved cinema classic The Red Shoes. This is Oran na h-Eala.
In 1948 the classic film The Red Shoes was made by the writing-director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Powell and Pressburger were British filmmakers and were as well respected as Hitchcock, Carol Reed, and David Lean. Powell was the director and Pressburger was the writer, but they always took a double credit as writer-directors and were known as The Archers as their logo was an arrow hitting its target, announcing such masterpieces as “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp,” “Black Narcissus,” “Peeping Tom,” “The Thief of Bagdad,” and The David Niven classic “A Matter of Life and Death”.
Steve Exeter’s Oran na h-Eala is a full-on melodrama told with a passionate intensity that is also gloriously and darkly absurd. It centres on a strong performance by Shannon Davidson as the actress Moira Shearer, the star of The Red Shoes who was 21 years old when she was cast in the film. When we meet her she is at odds with her directors, her character, and herself. At the time, Shearer was with the Sadlers’ Wells ballet Company, dancing in the shadow of the young Margot Fonteyn, and writer/director Exeter has given us a dramatized version of those events. Shearer wants to be a star but only in one discipline and she would prefer that to be in ballet. It is one thing to lose yourself in your art but in trying to decide which art to focus on Davidson’s Shearer almost loses her mind.
Opening with a parody of the Archers’ logo, the film sweeps us onto a journey where we see and hear Shearer trying to talk her way out of the role by telling P and P that she doesn’t take movies seriously, she then waits a whole year before agreeing to star in The Red Shoes and, once finished, goes back to the ballet after which it’s quite possible she never actually knew how good she was in the movie or how powerfully she related to the screen. There is a lot of experimental camera work on show throughout Oran na h-Eala and it becomes a very stylistic piece of work; halfway through we are treated to a Bob Fosse-esque musical number from Shannon Davidson that brings to mind Liza Minelli and Cabaret. While she also breaks the fourth wall and quite often talks directly to the audience, this addressing of the audience reminds us of Michael Caine’s Alfie and also the BBC comedy Fleabag.
The lighting by Ross Nurney is very expressive giving us a nice choice of scenes that are darkly lit, while others are lit with bright primary colours such as red, blue, orange, and green. There are a few scenes where the use of shadows is cleverly manipulated to give characters more depth and the short a few sinister undertones. Gary Maddison’s editing is a bit of a mixed bag and a little slipshod, but director Steve Exeter, along with his DoP Thomas Dobbie, chooses many different scene transitions and uses a large number of different shot choices. We have close-ups, mid shots, and establishing shots all providing us with more information about the plot and where each of our characters is situated.
The main story of Oran Na h-Eala has elements of backstage rivalry, and artistic jealousy, while also being about life choices, but it looks great and certainly has a beauty to it. All of the themes of the music, the confusion of reality, and people’s dreams come together in a tale about a very famous work of art that is both well directed and acted. Check the film out when you can.