Evening Standard Review of Les Enfants Du Paradis
Elegant black and white, hundreds of extras, a multi-tiered theatre as a crucial backdrop: Marcel Carné’s 1945 film Les Enfants du Paradis has rightly acquired classic status. The Arcola’s tiny basement studio space, a cast of 14 and a handful of props: this new adaptation by Dudley Hinton and Sebastian Armesto was bound to win marks for audacity, if nothing else.
What customarily follows in this sort of review is an exhortation to stay at home and rent the DVD. But not here: Hinton and Armesto, who also directs, have done a fine job, and one that is worth the cinema ticket entrance price of anyone’s money.
The script, largely faithful to the screenplay, has nevertheless been sensibly streamlined. Purists may lament the loss of some local colour - although those who saw Simon Callow’s lengthy take for the RSC will cheer the relative brevity - but what is highlighted beautifully is the classic love pentagon at the piece’s heart. Garance, enigmatic modelturned-actress, attracts and rejects four very different suitors, as the rumbustious performing world of early 19th century Paris whirls around her.
In the film, the titular “Children of the Gods” - those who inhabit the cheap seats at the top of the Thé‚tre des Funambles - lend vocal, visible support to Baptiste, the mime artist and Frédérick, the great classical actor in waiting. Armesto gets around the rather fundamental lack of such a structure with judicious noises off and some clever business with a portable stage curtain. The talented ensemble quickly conveys an ebullient sense of teeming life.
Annalie Wilson, saddled with an inappropriately revealing costume, could usefully give her Garance a little more Mona Lisa-style unknowability. Still, she certainly has charisma, which is why Christopher Doyle’s lovely, melancholy Pierrot of a Baptiste falls for her. With his open, innocent face, Doyle also manages the tricky feat of making those punishing mime sequences watchable.
Tom Mison has great fun as the irrepressible Frédérick, who views donning a lion costume as just another step en route to his rightful starring role as the Moor. His turn as a jaunty harlequin in ridiculous black tights is particularly memorable. This is an actor we’ll be hearing of again.
It might be seasonal to add that the origins of modern pantomime are here. It would be even more festively fitting to say three cheers to a brave young company.