Llandudno, 1983. I’m eight years old and on a family holiday. It’s raining so we’re in the cinema for the afternoon, watching the latest Bond film. We’ve reached that point where Bond happens to find himself in a bedroom with a “feisty” woman who a) doesn’t wear much and b) needs “taming”. And so we watch Bond force himself on her. She struggles, tries to push him off. Eventually she gives in. It would appear that she wanted it really. And I’m eight and I’m thinking is this normal? Is this what goodies do? Is this okay? No one else seems to find it strange – not my parents, not my 11-year-old brother – so I assume it must be normal. After all, he’s James Bond! He’s the good guy! This is what good guys do. I know it’s a fantasy – I’m eight, not an idiot – but I’m uncertain. Is this really a fantasy of how men are meant to be, and women are meant to respond? I can’t make sense of it. If only I’d had Barry Norman, film critic extraordinaire, on hand to explain it all to me. Continue reading
‘Shitting crikey’ is not a term I use liberally. First coined, I believe, in 2003, by a friend during the particularly tense Rugby World Cup Finals, it is used to express extreme stress, shock or horror. Such a term should not be used willy-nilly, lest it lose its impact. Hence I’ve never used it on this blog before. However, my partner and I have just been to the cinema to see Snow White and the Huntsman. Our shared response? SHITTING CRIKEY.
Last Friday my parents offered to look after the children so that my partner and I could go out for a meal. The cinema was a last-minute add-on, something which just popped into out heads because hey, you gotta be spontaneous once the kids are out of the way. We chose Snow White and the Huntsman because nothing else was still showing by the time we’d finished eating. That is the best excuse I can offer. I did kind of know the film would be crap. Just not shitting crikey crap.
I imagine the internet is full of appalled feminist reviews of this film. I lay no claim to originality (except, perhaps, in my use of ‘shitting crikey’ in this particular context). But the fact is, I sat through this film. I really suffered. So I deserve my reviewing moment (plus, if you’re considering seeing it, don’t bother. I’ll provide all the details below so you don’t have to go).
To make sure I don’t miss anything, I’ve decided to go through the film step by step. Please enjoy (although I sure as hell didn’t).
1. Beautiful fairytale queen pricks her finger on rose bush.
The normal pleb response to such an occurrence is to go “ow, my finger!” and give it a good suck to stop the bleeding. If you are a fairytale queen, however, you allow the blood to drip dramatically onto the winter snow before wishing, Victoria Beckham-style, for a daughter with lips as red as blood, hair as black as ebony and skin as white as snow i.e. a daughter who, if she were to have a Colour Me Beautiful style consultation, would be placed in the “clear” category and advised to wear bright clothing in order to avoid appearing clownish. This being a fairy tale, the queen has such a daughter. She christens her Snow White (in the film) and buys her an aqua pashmina to complement her high-contrast colouring (not in the film, but probably true).
2. Beautiful queen dies.
From winter and coughing in a ladylike fashion, it would appear. Everyone is sad. But hey, not to worry. The king soon finds a new bride, a woman who’s posing as the prisoner of a ghostly army he defeats. He marries her within a day of meeting her, on the basis that she looks like Charlize Theron (not that he’s superficial or anything).
3. New queen kills king on their wedding night.
In what Daily Mail reviewer Christopher Tookey describes as “her own, highly individual take on women’s rights”, Queen Ravenna (Theron) tells her new husband that men use women, value them only for their beauty and then dump them for younger models. To be honest, I don’t consider this to be a “highly individual” viewpoint, and imagine you’d be hard pressed to find a feminist who didn’t believe this to be a reality for many women. Particularly for Hollywood actresses. Even more particularly for extraordinarily beautiful Hollywood actresses, who may have won an Oscar for “minging up” a few years back but who now find themselves on the wrong side of 35, faced with the genuine prospect of becoming less attractive and less in demand (not saying any names). I don’t find the idea that men exploit and then discard economically and socially less-advantaged women the minute the wrinkles start to appear an “individual take” on gender relations at all. What I do find “highly individual” is the intimation that any woman who makes such an observation is actually a murderous harpy who’s about to stab her husband in the heart. You don’t get any of this pseudo-wimmin’s lib bollocks in Disney’s Snow White. Quite frankly, I’d prefer some random “I’m evil, mwah hah hah!” outburst to this antifeminist shite.
4. Queen Ravenna imprisons Snow White until she’s old enough, but not too old, to play the female lead in a Hollywood blockbuster.
In the intervening years Ravenna keeps young and beautiful using a combination of Botox, Crème de la mer and sucking the essence from gorgeous young maidens, leaving them wizened old husks. Actually, I made that up. She doesn’t do the first two as they’re a bit far-fetched and don’t really work. She does the last one, though, and it seems pretty effective (you have to get the right maidens, though. Lily Cole, for instance, who’s in the film – she’s the Lancôme Prevage of maidens. Me at 18, well, you’d be thinking more Nivea Q10, at best).
In a bonus misogynist twist, it’s suggested that Ravenna’s belief that beauty is power is all a personal delusion. The director has added in special camera views so that, while Ravenna’s talking to the ridiculous CGI mirror, you see it from a different angle and it looks like she’s talking to herself, meaning this “being the fairest of them all” crap is all in her head. So she’s a delusional moron as well as a murderous bitch! This is very odd, though, when you consider the actual plot of the film. Ravenna can only be killed “by fairest blood”, i.e. Snow White. Snow White’s authority clearly doesn’t come from being beautiful on the inside, whatever that might mean. It comes from appearing before people, or dwarves, or trolls, and possibly saying fuck all, but happening to look like Kristen Stewart. How to make sense of it all?
These, I think, are the essential conclusions to draw:
- For women, beauty is power
- For women, acknowledging that beauty is power means you’re mad
- For women, attempting to do something to preserve your own power within this paradigm means you’re evil
- For women, life is a total fucker
Meanwhile, Kristen Stewart’s locked in the tower, getting prettier and prettier, despite the mud and squalour. She probably has BO, though, given the lack of facilities. That’s what crossed my bitchy wrong-side-of-35 mind when seeing her in her cell.
5. Snow White escapes from the castle and into a perfume advert.
Ravenna decides that permanent youth and beauty can be hers if she consumes Snow White’s heart. Which is a bit extreme. After all, the scientists at Proctor & Gamble are working day and night to “smooth the way to younger-looking skin”. Hold off with the heart-eating, queenie! What’s that? You’ve got a kingdom to subjugate and just don’t have the time to wait for the clinical trials? I suppose that’s a fair excuse.
Snow White doesn’t want her heart to be eaten, though. So she breaks out of the palace, with a sponge and rusty spanner (oh, okay, a rusty nail, and no sponge, but a bonus Smiths reference would have raised the film slightly in my estimation). Breaking out of the palace by the sea is hard, though, and involves jumping into wild, crashing waves when there’s nowhere left to run. It’s unclear how Snow White survives this. Presumably even the waves recognise her superior beauty, especially since once she’s been made wet and non-muddy, she looks extra gorgeous and not at all in need of one of those special shampoos that gets salt water out of your hair.
Once she’s out of the ocean, she spots a pure white horse sitting on the sands. So she rides off on him, using the equestrian skills she picked up while incarcerated in a tiny cell for the past decade, while the narrator intones “Fairest blood. The new fragrance from Lacoste”. Except he doesn’t. But he should.
6. Ravenna goes completely mental and briefly turns into the baddie from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Faced with a young man from the village, Ravenna does that thing where you make your hand into a claw shape and hold it over your opponent’s heart, making it beat faster and faster until finally it stops. This worked okay in Indiana Jones but looks a bit incongruous here. Plus it adds extra confusion because the man she kills looks quite a lot like Snow White’s childhood sweetheart William. In fact, both my partner and I, quite independently, decided it was him. So then when William did appear later in the film we both thought he had risen from the dead and was hence a baddie in disguise. But he wasn’t! He was just William! (although not just William from the Just William books – don’t want to add that in as an extra layer). But as if that wasn’t bad enough, just to mess things up all over again, Ravenna disguises herself as William to give Snow White the poison apple, so then he is a baddie in disguise. Only he isn’t, because that’s not really William, it’s Ravenna, and there’s still a William who isn’t a baddie in disguise. Do you follow all this? Cause we didn’t. They should have got an actor who looked more different. Or just not bothered with the Indiana Jones scene at all.
7. Snow White ends up in the Dark Forest, where she meets the Huntsman.
In Disney’s Snow White, made in 1937, the dark forest scene is amazing. It’s just a person’s drawing of some trees, albeit with the branches made to look like fingers reaching out, and the bark distorted to look like faces. But it’s absolutely terrifying. It’s done with such verve and such passion, and with such a focus on the cartoon Snow White’s own fears and perspective. It’s not just someone sitting around thinking “hmm, are there any special effects I can borrow from the Harry Potter movies?”, which is what you get here.
So the dark forest is not that scary. It’s just a bit yuck, with insects and smoke machines and general ickiness. But it’s where Snow White meets the Huntsman, who’s been sent by the queen to find her. If you can remember the Robin of Sherwood TV series produced by Richard Carpenter in the early 80s, the Huntsman is basically Will Scarlett off that. A medieval man of action who’s got anger issues, but also a sensitive side because he’s lost his beloved wife. It’s particularly weird because Ray Winstone, who played Will Scarlett, also appears in this film, only as a dwarf. How the mighty have fallen. Or, in this case, shrunk.
The Huntsman is also a bit of an alcoholic, which is quite an achievement given that he’s in a kingdom where the crops have all failed. Furthermore, his hipflask never appears to run dry. If I were Snow White, I’d have asked for a swig, but she’s quite judgmental about the whole thing, curiously so, since what would she know about booze? (Perhaps a fellow prisoner gave her PSHE and horseriding lessons through the wall of an adjoining cell.)
One other thing to note: As soon as she meets the Huntsman, Snow White becomes crap at fighting and stuff, having originally been really plucky during her castle escape. Now she’s pants at everything other than being beautiful. He gives her a knife and tells her how to use it and she’s all “ooh, I couldn’t”. Then he rips her skirt to help her negotiate the boggy ground and when she looks freaked out by this, he says “don’t flatter yourself” (ha ha! Because worrying that a complete stranger who’s just ripped your skirt might be about to rape you is really fucking arrogant!). Snow White is better than the Huntsman at defeating a massive Harry Potter troll, though. She does this by looking deep into the troll’s eyes and awakening his sensitive, compassionate side. Although to be fair, given that’s the case, he’s not much of a sodding troll to begin with, is he?
8. Snow White and the Huntsman reach the hippy commune of mingy women.
No, I don’t remember this from any of the books, either. Snow White and the Huntsman leave the forest, having killed Ravenna’s weirdo brother (with whom you suspect there’d have been some kind of incest subplot – cf. Gladiator – had the film-makers had sufficient time and arsedness). They are rescued by some hippy-ish women who’ve all got scarred faces, having deliberately made themselves ming in order to escape Ravenna’s wrath (Samantha Brick, are you reading this? It’s an idea, isn’t it?). The self-made mingers all live together on the shores of a lake. They’re not lesbians, though – their menfolk are all away “fighting” or something. You get the impression this is the kind of place Oprah Winfrey would like. You also get the impression that this shit community of ugly birds constitutes the film’s first half-hearted nod to feminism. See, we don’t hate women! Look how empowered the scar-faced women are! They probably do Race for Life and everything! Only the women are useless when the village is attacked and the Huntsman (who is at this point stomping off in dugeon – can’t quite remember why) has to return and single-handedly save the day, as only a lone drunkard can in the face of some serious medieval warfare. Then he and Snow White run off, as the latter’s non-minginess is a risk to the mingy women’s way of life (why Snow White doesn’t consider self-mutilation is not made clear. Perhaps then Ravenna would feel less threatened and everything would be okay. Except Kristen Stewart would ming, marginally, and that would be a bit shit. And the film would have to end there, and it’d be like saying in order not to make trouble, all women should make themselves ming, at least a bit. And anyhow, if you’re going to advise women to deliberately defy common beauty standards, self-scarring seems a painful way to do it. Me, I’d rather just get ravaged and ugly by drinking from one of those never-ending hipflasks).
9. Finally we get to meet the seven (or is it eight?) dwarfs.
Did you think Celtic fetishisation bollocks sank to a watery grave with Titanic in 1997? Well, you were wrong. The dwarfs don’t all have hammy Oirish accents, but they might as well have. They are cute little leprechauns living in a sunny glen, the same one, perhaps, that features on the B*witched video for C’est la vie. To pass the time they play on the fiddle, dance and reminisce about the old days, long before the evil English, sorry, Ravenna destroyed their mining industry.
One of the dwarfs is blind but he can “see” better than the others. He “knows” that Snow White is the one who can save them all. Which is nice. The rest of the dwarfs just fancy her cause she’s fit. One of them even dances with her. In the Disney film, the dwarfs stand one on top of another to dance, so that they end up being the same height as Snow White. In this film, this one dwarf just takes advantage of the height difference and buries his head in Snow White’s tits. It’s all a bit uncomfortable. Snow White doesn’t appear to fancy the dwarf. Would it be a form of discrimination to tell him to stop being such a perv? Or is letting a complete stranger bury his head in your tits just the kind of generous act anyone in possession of “fairest blood” should undertake, given the number of sad lonely men there are out there? Come on, girls! Get yer tits out for the lonely leprechauns of the C’est la vie glen!
Unfortunately, the dwarf who dances with Snow White is killed by one of Ravenna’s men. Snow White comforts him in his dying moments (although not, thankfully, with her tits). I’m not sure whether there were seven dwarfs before this one dies (meaning we’re left with an unsatisfactory six), or whether there were eight and dwarf slaughter has left us with the requisite seven. To be honest, I never took the time to count. I spent most of the dwarf glen scene with my head in my hands, although that’s not as bad as my partner, who was actually asleep (it is tragic. We get one night off from childcare, one night in which to be a couple again, and we spend it in front of the Oirish Dwarf Glen of Misogynist Hell, me with my head in my hands, him snoring. Just fucking great).
10. Ravenna starts bingeing.
Not on food – on beautiful young maidens, the ones from whom she sucks all the good stuff until they become as rubbish as all post-menopausal women most certainly are. You get to see her standing the centre of a room, looking gorgeous but with a pile of now-ravaged girls at her feet. My partner had half woken up at this point and leaned over to murmur “should’ve at least tried Protect and Perfect”.
In terms of how the film treats Charlize Theron, there is, one can’t help feeling, a real sadism. The director is constantly cutting to close-ups of her face for evil “ageing” scenes, then cutting away to show Kristen Stewart looking young and perfect. Theron is still very beautiful but the power shift is obvious, both in the film and on the red carpet. In an interview with In Style magazine, she says of her role “there’s something really nice about the freedom of excusing behaviour that you would never, ever do yourself. I mean, the way I yelled at people in this movie – I would never do that in real life!” Which I’m sure she wouldn’t – she’d be out of a job. But if I were her, I’d desperately want to be yelling all the same. She is very good as Ravenna, but to be honest, you have to wonder how much of it, the anger in particular, really is acting.
11. Non-evil William appears on the scene.
So we’ve established that he’s not that other bloke who dies earlier, brought back from the dead. But he’s still absolutely bloody pointless (in fact, perhaps back-from-the-dead bloke would have been more interesting). William is Snow White’s childhood sweetheart who’s come out to rescue her, but the trouble is, she’s already got the Huntsman now. Cue minor amounts of unspoken jealousy and that’s about it. It’s a love triangle in which nothing at all happens. It’s worse than the Johnny Depp/ Orlando Bloom/ Keira Knightley triangle in Pirates of the Caribbean. Although it’s obvious that William is the Orlando Bloom in all this.
In what may be the film’s second misguided nod to feminism amidst all the blatant misogyny, it’s worth noting that Snow White does not end up marrying either man. The film ends with her being crowned queen (by a clerical authority which for some reason did not disintegrate during all the years of Ravenna’s crazy rule). Personally I think it’s a waste. While a woman’s whole worth shouldn’t be based on her looks, let’s face it, Snow White is fit, William is fit, the Huntsman is fit. At least two if not all three of them should be getting a good seeing-to out of this.
12. Snow White eats the apple.
Actually, this scene’s okay. Ravenna poses as William and gives Snow White a bright red apple. The latter takes a bite but then the apple rots in her hand and she falls, poisoned, to the ground. At this point William changes into Ravenna and for a brief moment (if you’re me or my partner) you think “so hang on, was William in fact Ravenna all along??” But then real William appears and you think “damn, so that boring sod’s actually a proper character after all”.
William tries snogging Snow White but it doesn’t revive her, although this is to be expected. After all, he’s no Johnny Depp/ Huntsman.
13. Snow White comes back to life and has another perfume advert moment.
Snow White might be dead but she gets an ace white nightie. Where she gets it from I don’t know. Probably the same place that supplies the never-ending booze flasks. Anyhow, she’s brought to the nearby town and people come to pay their respects. You know she’s not properly dead, though. That wouldn’t be right, what with her being young and pretty and stuff. And they’re not going to change the story that much, even though William’s proven to be a bit of a non-starter Prince Charming-wise.
Obviously it’s the Huntsman who awakens Snow White. However, it’s suggested that the “true love” which brings her back to life is not love for her but his love for his dead wife. Which to me seems a bit of a swizz. Get over it, matey!
Upon awakening from her death-like sleep, Snow White goes to stand in the square before all the townspeople. It is dark but she is like a beacon of light and hope in her pristine nightie. At this point the narrator says “Love’s first kiss. The new fragrance from Lacoste”. Except he doesn’t. But he should. Instead we get Snow White inspiring everyone to rebel against the queen so that they can be ruled over by someone who’s not as close to the menopause (in her “older” scenes Ravenna does actually remind me of Mother Nature from the Tampax Pearl adverts, just out to spoil Snow White’s attempts not to stop when her period starts. In fact, when you think about it – older woman, younger girl, lips as red as menstrual blood, skin as white as Tampax – there is a new advertising campaign right in there, just dying to get out).
14. Snow White, William, Huntsman, dwarfs and townspeople storm Ravenna’s castle.
At this point my partner had woken up properly. He’s a medieval historian and felt aggrieved at the poor representation of medieval warfare in this scene, and in particular the failure to take into account the speed with which archers can impede the progress of anyone attempting a direct assault on a solid defence structure. He also felt aggrieved that when the Huntsman makes a pervy comment regarding Snow White looking good in armour, she doesn’t respond with anything similarly saucy. Again, a completely wasted opportunity, rudery-wise.
Snow White kills Ravenna because the latter can only be killed “by fairest blood”. This moment was kind of spoilt for me (and other cinema-goers) by my partner going “fairies’ blood? What have fairies got to do with it? Do they even have blood?” Mind you, the whole film was sort of spoiled on account of it being rubbish and misogynist and hateful, so I’m not going to hold it against my cloth-eared man.
15. Snow White is crowned queen.
Everyone lives happily ever after. Until Kristen Stewart starts minging. Still, there’s always more where that came from, eh, Hollywood?
In terms of vicious, paranoid, sadistic misogyny, this film rivals the Nicholas Cage remake of The Wicker Man. This really worries me, since I haven’t even seen that many films in recent years. What if they’re all like that? What will we do then? I mean, what if, for instance, this isn’t even the only Snow White out there? What if they’ve made another one, one with, I don’t know, Julia Roberts in the role of the evil queen? What if they’ve done that?
*goes to consult cinema listings*