Black and white. Evil and good. Clear and distinct.
Fairy tales usually follow these lines. Things are kept simple, straightforward. Good v. bad.
Which is grand when you’re a child, until you grow up a bit and find the real world isn’t like that in very many ways. You could even say that growing up is essentially this process: beyond merely getting bigger or adding numbers on a calendar, that elusive quality, true maturity, develops as we come to learn that often, but not always, there are shades of grey in a great many things; certainties change over time, or we do or maybe a bit of both.
Some absolutes fade, get a little softer and blurred around the edges. That person whom we could never tolerate, let alone understand, and even less sympathise with, gradually seems a little more human – even judgements written in stone will weather over time.
Even in this context, though taking the solidly malicious Wicked Witch of the Sleeping Beauty tale and have us regard her as anything less than a fitting addition to a bonfire looks like a tall order.
Envious, enraged, vindictive, spiteful enough to curse a baby and blight a life. It would be hard to think of any character less susceptible to a moral makeover. And yet that is the magic of this film. It takes what we know, a familiar and well-worn plot and then turns everything on its head by showing us everything we don’t know.
Without resorting to saccharine schmaltz it persuades us that there might be another perspective, that even the hardest of hearts may have some spark of humanity left. But not always and not everyone. Avoiding oversimplification and refusing to shy away from darkness and death means the film packs a punch which makes the PG rating warranted.
The best part of traditional fairy tales are the sharp edges of the story that always tantalise us with tension and dread at regular intervals and send shivers up the spine – all may not work out, the end may not be happy. And often enough it isn’t. Maleficent takes this idea and runs with it gleefully. Presuming the audience is familiar with the Sleeping Beauty story already, it starts in a very different fashion.
Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) when we first see her is young and carefree in the magical Land of Fairies – still growing but already the most powerful of the fairy folk. Untroubled by outsiders she spends her days happily and content among the other creatures of Fairy Land: tall and short, on four legs and two, winged and hopping. The most stressful moment of the day is being hit by a mud pie playfully thrown by an 8 foot frog. Life is idyllic. Until. There of course has to be an until…..
One day an intruder from the Land of Humans is caught. Usually both realms go about their own business, with the divide between magical creatures and mankind clearly marked. Stefan (Michael Higgins/Jackson Bews) however has other ideas. The same age as Maleficent (Ella Purnell) , the two become close friends. Gradually though the restlessness and ambition that brought Stefan into Maleficent’s life draw him away for longer and longer periods.
Eventually he’s gone for good it seems. Years pass by and the now grown Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) has to deal with another very different encounter with humans. King Henry (Kenneth Cranham) and his army of archers, infantry and mounted knights arrive to conquer the Land of Fairies. Maleficent becomes the winged protector and guardian of her home. Using her now fully developed powers, she marshals the other creatures of Fairy Land and repels the human invasion, flying over the battlefield as an unstoppable, invulnerable avenger.
King Henry returns to his castle, defeated. Stymied by Maleficent, he offers to make anyone who can neutralise her his heir.
Soon after Maleficent meets Stefan (Sharlto Copley) again. And to say any more would be to give away far too much……..
Angelina Jolie is tremendous throughout, by times vulnerable, funny, terrifying, miserable but above all entirely convincing.
She’s ably supported by Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, and Juno Temple in a touching but never sickly sweet film.