Review of The Company of Wolves (DVD)
The Company of Wolves was released in 1984. It was directed by Neil Jordan, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Angela Carter. The film was based upon an original story by Angela Carter and more loosely on the Red Riding Hood folk tale. Angela Carter was already known for a strong track record in rewriting and re-presenting folk tales and fairy tales in order to allow the unvoiced to speak: women, ethnic minorities, the disabled for example. And the modern world proved to be ready for a revisiting of the old tales our parents told us in the nursery and Disney brought to the big screen. Her books were highly popular.
Rosaleen is about fourteen or fifteen. Her older sister never passes up the opportunity to torment her. Rosaleen falls into a disturbed sleep in her attic bedroom surrounded by some very old-fashioned toys and other relics of childhoods gone by. Her subconscious is working through the resentment by displacing it into a medieval forest community, with her parents and grandmother reinvented as the villagers. In the fairy tale, Rosaleen's sister strayed too far from the path and paid the price. After the funeral, Rosaleen goes to stay with her grandmother in her little cottage deep in the forest. That evening, Granny imparts three barbed prongs of wisdom:
Never stray from the path
Never eat a windfall apple
Never trust a man whose eyebrows meet.
Rosaleen isn't impressed by these products of a long and apparently fairly cynical life. But, as Granny herself said, 'you've got alot to learn child.' Undaunted, she continues to provide advice by the fireside:
"The worst kind of wolves are hairy on the inside."
Granny also tells Rosaleen a tale of a woman who married a travelling man. His eyebrows met in the middle, so naturally it didn't end well.
Rosaleen's temptations are many and varied, as befits a pretty young girl on the cusp of womanhood. One is the village boy she's known all her life. The other is a huntsman she comes across in the woods. He wears a sparkling coat and waistcoat and sports an exotic accent. Sadly, happy ever after is not to be: his eyebrows meet in the middle, too.
The sets on this film are marvellous and the animatronics, in an age before computer FX could take the strain, are wonderful. It's the detail that makes a fairy story as much as the time-honoured plot. Here the viewer is immersed in a woodland drenched in surreal mushrooms and hatching eggs, to name but two. It also has lots of animals and the foray into pythons and iguanas, although a flight of fancy for a Germanic forest, does little to spoil the mood. By the end, you're pretty much 'what the hell, it all works'. Precisely, I imagine, as the director intended.
A Neil Jordan film is always good value.