First Night: Moulin Rouge, Odeon, Leicester Square

Cheap pop music seems strangely suited to this gaudy setting
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The Independent Culture

Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge has already attracted some pretty sniffy – not to say downright hostile – reviews, which, I am happy to report, it does not deserve.

The Australian director of Strictly Ballroom and – more to the point here – the energetic updating of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, has created a cheeky, colourful and full-on cinematic treat; an aural and visual bombardment that is both stylish and funny, and even moving, if you are in the mood.

The story is simplicity itself. Can Nicole Kidman's icy courtesan be thawed by the love of the penniless poet Ewan McGregor before she dies of consumption or marries an aristo- cratic rotter, the Duke of Monroth (an entertaining portrayal of dim-brained, blue-eyed sadism by Richard Roxburgh).

And there hangs a tale upon which to load some virtuoso set and costume designs, camera-work and editing. This sort of gleefully unabashed showmanship has its enemies, but surely it can find a home in a movie called Moulin Rouge?

The setting is in opulent fin-de-siècle Montmartre where the can-can dancing joint of the title is in dire financial straits unless Kidman's courtesan can win the heart and cash of the wicked duke. The film might easily have landed in musical Dire Straits, but instead we get reworked versions of T-Rex, The Police, David Bowie, Elton John and Madonna as Luhrmann works an anachronistic pop soundtrack into the costume-drama setting.

As a running gag, this has surprisingly strong legs; the songs are perversely chosen for their naffness and wittily juxtaposed to the action. McGregor's rendition of The Police's "Roxanne" and Kidman's cover of "One Day I'll Fly Away" don't elevate these ballads beyond what Noel Coward called "the potency of cheap music", but they do seem suited to 1890s Paris.

As, even more strangely, does Ewan McGregor. One of the more inexplicable movie stars of our age, McGregor is an unlikely romantic lead, but does convey something of the poet's soul. Kidman looks lovely as the showgirl Satine, even if one suspects that she doesn't quite have the depth yet to be a fully-fledged tragedienne.

Both McGregor and Kidman sing their own musical numbers – and more or less get and away with it. It is typical of the bravery that characterises this lavishly good- humoured entertainment.

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