Andersen’s story is about a young girl who wants to have and cannot stop thinking about a beautiful pair of red shoes. When she gets them, an old soldier puts a spell of them that makes them dance without stopping – eventually an executioner chops off her feet and ultimately she dies. In the ballet within the film, the shoes dance the girl to her death. This story is reflected in the plot of the film itself, with Victoria ultimately being given a choice between her life and her art.
The documentary on the DVD tells us that the theme of dying for your art has made the film very popular with talented directors such as Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. At the time of its release in 1948 this theme was quite a statement – World War II had just finished and people were used to people dying for their country and dying for democracy – dying for art must have seemed relatively frivolous and quite offensive. Gorgeous as it is, the film was not promoted extensively in the UK and did not prove popular at first, as this review from The Monthly Film Bulletin on the BFI website shows. However, the film was nominated for five Oscars and won two – for Art Direction (Color) and Music – and went on to become a classic.