Like the story it tells, the success of the small Australian independent movie Strictly Ballroom is a remarkable fairy tale. In 1985, an initial idea was developed by eight drama students into a one-act 30 minute play, due to be performed twice. Two years later, when Baz Luhrmann became artistic director of an Australian theatre company, it was expanded into a 70-minute comedy.
Buoyed by this success, Luhrmann set off for Cannes looking for finance to turn it into a movie. The subject matter, ballroom dancing, raised many eyebrows but no money. Two years later, though, Luhrmann enjoyed the last laugh when the movie received a ten-minute standing ovation at the same festival and went on to become a hit all over the world.
The film’s motto (and that of Luhrmann’s own film company) is ‘A life lived in fear is a life half lived’. With this in mind, rookie dancer Fran (Tara Morice) approaches a disgraced young dancer, Scott (Paul Mercurio), with the suggestion that he become her dancing partner. He’s been ostracised by the archly-conservative Dance Federation for trying to introduce his own dance steps into the fiercely regimented world of ballroom dancing, and feels he has nothing to lose by agreeing. This coupling appals Scott’s mother, Shirley (Pat Thomson), and his coach, Les (Peter Whitford), who suggest instead he dance with champion dancer Tina Sparkle (Sonia Kruger). Initially tempted by this offer, Scott soon realises his error and starts preparations for dancing a spectacular Spanish dance with Fran at the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix. As the big day looms, a lot of mischievous footwork is attempted to trip the couple up, with surprising revelations and a triumphant denouement in store.
Both Mercurio and Morice needed intensive training to prepare for the film, with Morice facing the greater challenge (Mercurio was a ballet dancer but Morice had no prior dancing experience whatsoever). They succeed handsomely, although the biggest laurel must go to Luhrmann, who achieves his goal of creating a colourful and joyful movie in the style of a 1940s Hollywood musical – a style he developed four years later in William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet . The faux documentary interludes are a constant delight, while Bill Hunter is superb as the conniving Dance Federation president.
Australia | 94 minutes | 1992
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Script: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce,
Peter Whitford as Les Kendall
Paul Mercurio as Scott Hastings
Tara Morice as Fran
Bill Hunter as Barry Fife
Pat Thomson as Shirley Hastings
Gia Carides as Liz Holt
Barry Otto as Doug Hastings
John Hannan as Ken Railings
Sonia Kruger as Tina Sparkle
Kris McQuade as Charm Leachman
Pip Mushin as Wayne Burns
Antonio Vargas as Rico
Armonia Benedito as Ya Ya
Lauren Hewett as Kylie Hastings
Steve Grace as Luke
Paul Bertram as State Finals MC J.J. Silvers
Todd McKenney as Nathan Starkey
Kerry Shrimpton as Pam Short
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