Philip Saville’s Hans Christian Andersen: My Life as a Fairytale

DVD cover art, Hans Christian Anderson, My Life As a FairytaleAndrea S. Garrett wrote this review.

Hans Christian Andersen: My Life as a Fairytale is a made for cable production specifically created for the Hallmark Channel. I can think of very few good things to say about this movie. It’s not even one of those movies you can enjoy for being bad or a bit hammy; it’s just boring. The movie is aptly summed up by a statement the Dickens children pin on Hans Christian Anderson’s bedroom door: “Mr. Anderson slept here for five weeks … it seemed ages.” Yes, yes it really did.

Kieran Bew as Hans is horrid proof of what would have happened if Jerry Lewis and Jim Carrey had a child. He over acts, he falls about in a stagey and stiff manner, his mouth constantly gapes open in a painful grimace. And he is so horridly moist. He’s always crying or blubbering or just spewing some sort of way. I would be hard pressed to decide what audience the movie was aimed at. One would guess from the awful overacting, which some directors seem to believe children are fond of, that the movie was aimed at the five to nine year old age group – but then, for long, long periods of time, nothing much happens but social interaction of a tedious sort. I cannot imagine any child being remotely interested in Andersen meeting nice people in a new place and chatting with them while we see that his host’s daughter Yetta Collin is falling in love with him.

The latter part of the movie when Hans becomes an all too permanent fixture in the household of Charles Dickens is perhaps the best part of the entire film. The scene in which Mrs. Dickens tries to confront her husband about his mistress is very well done and poignant. Charles stomps off outside to where Hans is (moistly) gawping at a daisy chain and testily confronts him about his “crush” on Jenny Lind. Mr. Dickens asserts that Hans is only following Jenny because he will not succeed in wooing her – because he doesn’t really want to have a requited love. This is as close as the movie comes to the obvious attraction Hans seems to have for Edward Collin.

Three Andersen fairy tales are worked into the movie as fantasy pieces – The Little Match Girl, The Little Mermaid, and The Snow Queen. The viewer is to draw parallels from Hans’ life into these stories and it is of course easy to do – one wonders why Hans never seems to comprehend these similarities since he wrote the stories! These little stories are really fairly well done. The Little Match Girl is appropriately sad and very short. The young actor who plays the title role incites pity without being syrupy. The Little Mermaid is the best, with a scary sea hag and fairly good special effects. The Snow Queen gets pretty long and I can’t imagine it holding a child’s interest, though it too has good effects.

The scenery, costumes, and sets in the movie are really lovely. The women’s make up and hair in particular are more correct for the period than in most movies. Yetta’s hair with its strange parts and sectioning seems to have been copied directly from a daguerreotype, as does Mrs. Dickens’ hair in a concert scene. The interiors are wonderful with lovely period colors and furniture. The street scenes are lively and believable with action to make it seem that this is actually a city scene. They also contain period carriages with lovely matched pairs of horses – a touch that is often forgotten in the movies.

There are some good actors in the movie – mostly playing characters with flaws. Geraldine James is very good as Hans’s drunken mother. Lynda Bellingham as the raddled madam of a house of prostitution where Hans stays when he first arrives in Copenhagen (and where his aunt has apparently worked!) is a scream. The character of a mean teacher of a school where Hans is the oldest, and certainly the silliest and weepiest, pupil is, I could have sworn, played by Rutger Hauer. When I didn’t see his name in the credits I thought he very sensibly decided to be anonymous but the actor who is listed, Steven Berkhoff, has a long and very interesting film history so obviously I was wrong.

The character of Hans was (moistly) played by Mr. Bew as very effeminate. It is completely obvious that Hans is in love not with Yetta, but with her brother Edward. I thought this a rather odd touch until I read a bit about Hans Christian Andersen’s life. According to this author, Andersen was very “effeminate” and was in love with Edward Collin. Indeed Edward and his wife were buried next to Hans until the Collin family had them removed and reinterred.

To conclude, I did not think this movie was worth watching. A great deal of the acting was sub-par. It was in many places too childish for adults and in many others too adult for children, and did not do justice to the subject, one of the most revered writers in the history of fairy tales.

(Hallmark Entertainment, 2001)

Diverse Voices

Diverse Voices is our catch-all for writers and other staffers who did but a few reviews or other writings for us. They are credited at the beginning of the actual writing if we know who they are which we don't always. It also includes material by writers that first appeared in the Sleeping Hedgehog, our in-house newsletter for staff and readers here. Some material is drawn from Folk Tales, Mostly Folk and Roots & Branches, three other publications we've done.

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