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Secret of Moonacre, The


Stars: Dakota Blue Richards, Ioan Gruffudd, Juliet Stevenson, Tim Curry, Natasha McElhone, Augustus Prew

Director: Gabor Csupo

A second-rate children's fantasy, adapted (badly) from the forties' junior classic The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. 13-year-old Maria Merryweather (Richards), left penniless by the gambling debts of her late father, journeys, accompanied by her ever-belching governess Miss Heliotrope (Stevenson), to the massive, cliffside Moonacre Manor, to live there with her embittered uncle (Gruffudd).

Left a book by her father about the history of the place and its 'moon princess', Maria, protected by a huge black dog, Wrolf, soon becomes involved in the righting of old wrongs, and the finding of a magical string of pearls that could reunite two warring clans.

Alas, the film is poorly done even without the inadequacy of its young leading lady. Richards, promising in The Golden Compass and especially TV's Dustbin Baby, looks, under Csupo's tentative direction, like someone feeling their way into acting: she needs a lot more work on her technique. Stevenson comes on too strong as the governess, Gruffudd and McElhone are less than whole-hearted as star-crossed lovers, and Curry, saddled with such dialogue as 'She's back in the forest - and this time she won't be leaving' - gives a typically rumbustious reading of the villain.

Supporting roles are sorely in need of better direction and special effects are only adequate - less so in the case of a tidal wave turning into a line of white horses. A notable flop.

David Quinlan

France/Hungary/UK/Australia 2008. UK Distributor: Warner Brothers. Technicolor.
103 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: U.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 04 Feb 2009