Ken's Flute proves not so magic
Media students did not hold back when they met the director after watching his film of Mozart's opera. He has braved the fiercest arts critics and had his work torn apart and he has had his marriage dissected by the prying media. But none of that prepared Kenneth Branagh for facing Year 12.
"No offence," a teenage boy told the director after watching his latest film, "but it's bo-o-oring."
The critic was part of an audience of London pupils who are studying media studies or music at GCSE or A-level. They had been invited by the media studies organisation Film Education to attend a preview of the film version of Mozart's The Magic Flute directed by Branagh. The film, set during the First World War, is intended to make opera accessible to those who would never usually consider seeing it staged.
"The Magic Flute deals with themes of life and magic," Branagh told the pupils. "We thought it could be applied to all kinds of generations."
The opera is sung in English, adapted from the original German by Stephen Fry. So, Papageno's comment: "You've heard it - you're as good as dead," is answered with: "Will you shut it? Shut your head."
Despite these flashes of directness, the film is often impenetrable, the magical elements of the plot lost in imagery of trench warfare.
Pupils addressed such concerns to Branagh after the screening. He parried the comment that it was "bo-o-oring" unflappably. "Thank you. It's good to know people's honest opinions. What exactly did you find boring about it?"
There was a pause. "Er, dunno," the boy said. "Too much singing."
Branagh told The TES he had enjoyed the discussion, which was "a real and natural interchange".
"You can't get the hump with people who don't happen to share your vision of it," he said. "You open the doors to someone, but you can't push them through."
He did, however, use the session to bring up his more teen-friendly work. "I've been able to produce, direct and act as well in things such as the Harry Potter films," he told the students, launching into a description of how Quidditch matches are filmed.
Julie Green, director of education for Film Education, said: "Mozart was a populist entertainer in his day. Film is a modern way of getting audiences to that form of entertainment.
"We want to generate discussion and critical awareness of film. That's why the discussion was so great."
As the pupils filed out, one media studies teacher approached another. "Was that your pupil who said `It's boring'?" she asked. "Well done."