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  • Writer's pictureEllen Cheshire

Everybody can Can-Can!

Updated: May 5, 2023

On Monday evening I was channel hopping and found Moulin Rouge had just started on Movie Mix, "I'll watch of bit of this" I thought - two hours later I'd been once again swept away by Baz Luhrmann's highly-theatrical film musical.

The year is 1900, the setting Paris. Christian (MacGregor), a young Englishman newly arrived in Paris to pursue is dream of being a poet, becomes embroiled with Toulouse-Lautrec’s (Leguizamo) mad-cap scheme to create a Bohemian Revolutionary musical for presentation at the world famous Moulin Rouge, run by the larger than life Zidler (Broadbent).

Christian is inveigled into posing as a famous English writer in an attempt to impress Zidler’s leading lady, Satine (Kidman). Unfortunately she herself was due to impress a famous (and rich) English count (Roxburgh), in an attempt to get him to fund the conversion of the Moulin Rouge from a den of vice and debauchery to a legitimate theatre, thereby transforming herself from courtesan and nightclub entertainer to a ‘real actress’.

Confusing the two English gents, Satine finds herself in Christian’s arms and falling in love. Tragedy, farce, romance and a lot of singing and dancing follow in this spectacular musical for the 21st century. The plot is pretty straight forward, you know from the outset that Christian’s and Satine’s affair is doomed so there are no surprises there – just how you’re going to travel the journey from Christian’s hopeful arrival in Paris to the broken man we first see.

And the journey? Well, from the opening frame of a theatrical red velvet curtain being drawn, to the closing credits, Moulin Rouge! is a feast for the eyes and the soul – it is pure cinematic heaven.

Each moment is one to behold and cherish, there is so much of everything and yet it is still not enough. The characters tumble between high camp, tragedy and farce and yet still manage to move. Once you’ve engaged with the film’s premise that people break into classic songs to express emotions, you’ll soon be accepting that in this world it is possible for Jim Broadbent to ‘seduce’ Richard Roxburgh by singing Madonna’s Like a Virgin. Or for a young poet in the 1900s to get a writing gig by coming up with the immortal lines “The hills are alive with the sound of music …”.

Ewan MacGregor and Nicole Kidman sing all their own songs and carry off their complex musical numbers with great panache considering that they are very classy actors as well.

I can’t do justice to the vibrancy and lushness of this film with mere words – I need songs, a singing moon, Parisian rooftops and a green fairy…

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