It’s been 10 years since I sat on the sofa, legs curled up underneath me, with my eyes fixed on the TV at the swirling red background of the menu page of the film Stardust. My mum was away for the weekend, and since she didn’t like fantasy films, my dad and I were excited to see something with a little magic — specifically when it was a Neil Gaiman adaptation. My dad hit play, and a gloriously delightful story appeared on the screen before my eager eyes.
Since that night, that epic tale of royalty, mystery, wonder and love has been swimming through my mind, bringing me back to it more times than I can count. Throughout the ebbs and flows of my life, I’ve come back to this story as a comfort blanket, for it to challenge me once more — to simply bask in the joy of the film itself.
Ian McKellen narrates the film and stoically reads in the first minutes: “A philosopher once asked, ‘Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them, because we are human?’ Pointless, really. Do the stars gaze back? Now, that’s a question.” How can you not love a film that starts with that little nugget of wisdom?
I’m glad I was 9 when I saw that film for the first time, because as a kid, it’s easy to check your cynicism at the door and wholeheartedly believe in something ecstatically and sublimely romantic. It is a story that follows a young boy who is after his heart’s desire. Finding out that his heart’s desire wasn’t quite what he thought it was, he falls in love with a star that descends to earth after a king sends a necklace into the heavens.
There’s a ghastly subplot of three witches who aim to find the star, cut out and eat her heart, which follows alongside another subplot of a couple of Princes in search of the necklace that nocked the star out of her home.
Though it’s basic plotline is vastly different from its book origin, it still retains its darker elements and its tender strain. Gaiman himself said in his book, The View from the Cheap Seats, that the film was more like a retelling of a fairytale and that it simply added to its ambience. (Nothing makes me happier than a writer enjoying the film adaptation of their book, so I exhaled a deep sigh of relief when I found out that Gaiman actually does like it.)
Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman brought together a star-studded cast, including Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Charlie Cox, Robert DeNiro and Sienna Miller. Vaughn brought Ilan Eshkeri into the melting pot of incredible talent, creating quite possibly one of the most beautiful scores for a film I have ever heard, and I know that sounds hyperbolic, but it really isn’t.
Vaughn’s reputation proceeds him as a director wanting to subvert norms of all kinds, using shocking scenes to entertain his audience (most vitriolically in Kingsman: The Golden Circle). One example in Stardust is when he dresses DeNiro in a corset and has him dance to the cancan as extreme violence occurs a floor above him. Additionally, Vaughn gets away with a rather violent murder via a good old-fashioned throat slit in a PG-rated film by making the murdered Prince in question’s blood blue.
Stardust must be seen as the starting point of the Vaughn we know now — an artist with a mischievous sensibility and articulate knowledge of how to make an audience laugh and squirm at the same time, all with a knack for film adaptations. It’s charming, starry-eyed and emotive and in many ways, Vaughn’s best film.