12 Days of Lesley Manville – 6: Maleficent (2014)

Angelina Jolie is clearly the star of the show in Maleficent but at the expense of all others

“I had wings once, and they were strong. But they were stolen from me”

I hadn’t seen this reworking of Sleeping Beauty before, not much being a fan of the genre of giving film villains an empathetic backstory. And Maleficent kinda went the way I thought it would, all kinds of camp potential ignored in the attempts to recast the iconic antagonist in a somewhat friendly light, missing the fact that what makes her interesting is her villainry.

Here, we discover that she was hurt first, and that all the shenanigans with a spinning wheel was an act of vengeance. We thus first meet the fairy as a horny teenager, getting it on with Stefan, a horny peasant boy from the neighbouring human kingdom. He turns out to be a wrong’un though, so when Maleficent kills the human king whilst defending the fairy realm, Stefan seizes the opportunity to be named heir by hacking her wings off her, leaving her bitter and twisted and him heir apparent.

So it is understandable that she would curse his firstborn, the lovely Aurora, right? And what Robert Stromberg’s film, from Linda Woolverton’s screenplay, tries to show us is that not even Maleficent is that horrible really, as she watches Aurora grow up from afar at first and then slowly inveigles her way into her life as her ‘fairy godmother’. She even looks into ways of breaking the curse before Aurora finds out the truth about her supposed guardian angel.

It doesn’t quite come off for me, as none of the other characters get a look in in terms of meaningful development, particularly Elle Fanning’s Aurora, and the overall story lacks a certain oompf (though I acknoweldged I’m hardly the target audience). Lesley Manville is at least good fun as Flittle, one of three hapless pixies tasked with protecting Aurora (Imelda Staunton’s Knotgrass and Juno Temple’s Thistlewit complete the set) in her woodland idyll.

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