Thursday, October 22, 2015

Women We Love: Moira Shearer

If she only ever made one movie, "The Red Shoes", Moira Shearer would be unforgettable. If you were a girl in 1948— big or little— that movie was part of your life.

A movie-within-a-movie, the film centers on the romantic triangle of a young ballerina, a composer and the demanding director of the ballet company. The tale of the red shoes, from a story by Hans Christian Anderson, is about a magical pair of red slippers and a girl who can't stop dancing. It mimics the strains of her relationships with the men in her life. I didn't "get" any of that as a 6-year-old. I only saw a beautiful woman who seemed to be twirling effortlessly. Despite their bad ju-ju, my older sister had a pair of ceramic red ballet slippers formed as a planter on her bedroom wall.

The evil slippers

My crush on Moira fueled a life-long desire for ballet lessons. Unrequited love. I convinced myself that I would have made a great ballerina, until I got to know a real dancer and understood about the discipline, stress, hard work and bruised feet.

Moira Shearer was lesser known than— but easily confused with— two other redheads, Maureen O'Hara and Deborah Kerr. There was a sweetness about her that made the descent into ballet hell in that movie all the more believable.

Moira, Maureen, Deborah

Moira Shearer  was born in Scotland in 1926 and raised in Rhodesia. She returned to Great Britain to study in London in 1936, joining the Sadler's Wells Ballet in 1942. "The Red Shoes" gave her instant  stardom. Although she appeared in a few other films, including the ballet-themed "Tales of Hoffman" she is practically the film equivalent of a one-hit wonder for playing Vicky in "The Red Shoes".

She was a dancer who could act, as opposed to an actor who could dance (i.e. Natalie Portman in "Black Swan"). Her unstudied acting style gave the "Red Shoes" its authenticity but limited her future. 1960's "Peeping Tom" was a dreadful movie not helped by a wooden Moira. She made few films and had retired from dancing by 1953.  Married for over 50 years to Ludovic Kennedy, she died in 2006 at age 80.


  1. The moment when the newspapers blowing in the street came to life and danced with her was magical -- and done without CGI. I've seen the movie many times, and only noticed its feminist overtones (a woman doesn't have the freedom to put her art first, and still have a romantic relationship -- which the men in the movie all take for granted) when I was an adult. Some say the movie is not feminist, because of the ending; as a feminist, I love it for being one of the few movies at the time (just after WW II) that even noticed the problem: a man could have both; but a woman was expected to choose. (P.S. Rosie the Riveter was given her pink slip and sent home the day the war ended. See the book by Penny Colman.) Shearer gives unique performance in a unique movie.

    1. Obviously this is a film that could use a thoughtful revival (with discussion such as yours). It occasionally airs on TCM, but I couldn't even find it on Netflix! Thanks for your comments.