Òran na h-Eala (Steve Exeter, 2022) – the pressure of creativity.

The soft glow cast over the opening shot that continues to illuminate Shannon Davidson’s Moira Shearer throughout this short is as much a nod to old film as it is to the dreamy ballerina’s personality. This ambiance beautifully contrasts against other sequences that delve into the pressure that Shearer faced when Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger approached her for an acting opportunity in The Red Shoes (1948). The two directors pushed her to leave her excelling career as a ballerina to play a similar role in their film; a decision which changed Moira’s life forever.

Davidson was the correct choice for this role, as she embodies Shearer’s youthfulness in her speeches to the camera and thoughtful mirror shots taken straight from The Red Shoes, a shot which pulls the audience directly into another time period. Other instances in the film didn’t carry this same effect, such as a modern feeling in the setting or clothing, but that doesn’t cause a real issue; the memorable makeup from Moira’s The Red Shoes performance is expertly replicated on the lead actor, for example. That modernness also ends up working when Davidson breaks the fourth wall to tell us of the pressure her character is under, as the comfortable gaze she holds kindles a connection with someone who was so illustrious as both a ballerina and an actor.

Moira Shearer (Shannon Davidson) practicing ballet.

This film, although only 12-minutes long, provides multiple sequences that will stick with you for their creativity. Shearer’s spinning on stage, camera fixated on her face so we see no blur, her need to be top ballerina and have the audience recognise her prodigious abilities, is easily recognised and then shattered when Powell (Alastair Thomson Mills) and Pressburger (Alec Westwood) are joined in her spinning, arms crossed as a dominating presence. Again, in a sort of ‘chase scene’, we see Davidson running between cloned bodies of the two men, bathed in vibrant colour-blocks as they obstruct her exit. This contrasts with the soft warm glow that bathes the rest of Davidson (the vintage lenses used in filming augmenting the suggested time period), amplifying her mental state and the pressure she was under to choose between ballet and film – told the film will excel her ballet when the opposite was always a daunting possibility.

The mirror shots littered throughout the film that are replicated from The Red Shoes, despite their obvious use, become more than just a nod to the original material and transformed into an almost tropey way of showing the conflict Shearer was facing. It nearly took away from the other great scenes.

Moira Shearer (Shannon Davidson) pondering her choices in the mirror.

The writer and director of this film clearly has an admiration for Shearer and her career, as well as an understanding of the difficult decisions she had to make in order to progress in her career, and the accompanying pressure from both the ballet and the film industry. This translates well into audiences that both know and don’t know about the actor Moira Shearer and her debut film. There’s a lot of soul and heart featured here, something more short films could do with having.


Òran na h-Eala teaser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4q1zR757V0Q&ab_channel=onlineinquirer

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