Tuesday 18th January 2022

MirrorMask (PG)
Directed by: Dave McKean
Reviewed by: Paul Fonz

If you're into comic books or fantasy literature, the chances are you'll have heard of Neil Gaiman, the creative genius behind the Sandman comics and Good Omens, which he wrote with Terry Pratchett. You might not be aware, however, that Gaiman has also written for television and now has a burgeoning career in the film industry.

Since Episode III, C-3PO had really let himself slide
Since Episode III, C-3PO had really let himself slide

Together with his long time friend, artist Dave McKean, Gaiman has created a partnership that is bursting with talent, innovation and ideas and the result of their latest collaboration, happily for us, is one of the finest fantasy films made since The Wizard of Oz.

Helena is a 15 year old girl whose parents run their own circus. She is frequently called upon to perform in the shows, but she would much rather be in her bedroom drawing or, ironically, running away from the circus to lead a more normal life.

During the performance one night, Helena's mother, played by Gina McKee (Notting Hill) is taken very ill and shipped off to hospital, leaving Helena and her dad (Rob Brydon – A Cock and Bull Story) to struggle along. Helena, and therefore the audience, is kept in the dark as to what exactly is wrong, but it's obvious that with shows being cancelled the circus is in dire financial trouble. Helena's mother is clearly very ill and in need of an operation, but the wrapper of childhood protection stops us finding out exactly what her condition is. Having watched endless hours of E.R., Scrubs, Diagnosis Murder and House M.D. though, I can use my expert medical knowledge to guess that it's a brain tumour.

So far, so Ken Loach. However, on the night of the operation, Helena falls asleep and wakes up in a strange and mysterious world, in which all the characters wear masks and are played by the same actors as the people in the real world, much like the tradition of Peter Pan (no, not that Peter Pan).

In this wonderfully imagined world, which is clearly based on Helena's drawings, are two opposing factions, run by the Queen of Darkness and the Queen of Light (both played by Gina McKee). Unfortunately, the light side is definitely losing the battle and the Queen of Light has been put to sleep until she is awoken by a charm.

The story is fairly straightforward, but it is told in an extremely accomplished way and there is so much detail and beauty to look at and absorb in this fantasy world that a complicated plot is far from necessary. The world in which most of the film takes place is reminiscent of so many diverse sources that I can feel a tingle just by listing them: Salvador Dali, Labyrinth, Terry Gilliam, Dark City and Hayao Miyazaki to name but a few. The characters in the film are equally imaginative too and some of them would be more usually found in Japanese video games such as the Final Fantasy series, rather than committed to celluloid.

The score of the film plays almost continuously and is not only suited to the imaginary land of darkness and light, it really helps sell the mood and style, providing a very immersive experience.

A strong British pedigree, a beautiful and incredible visual style and a wonderfully charming story all come together to make this, the Alice in Wonderland of the 21st Century, a must-see film. I'm not sure precisely what age group it is aged at, but I loved it and I should think children from ten upwards will too!

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Length: 101 minutes
Certificate: PG
Official Site:
IMDB Link:
Release Date: 3rd March 2006

Top Five Rating: 90.0%90.0%90.0%90.0%90.0%90.0%90.0%90.0%90.0%90.0% (90.0%)
User Rating: 100.0%100.0%100.0%100.0%100.0%100.0%100.0%100.0%100.0%100.0% (100.0%)

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