Tale of Tales – Review

Worth seeing: as a visually stunning portmanteau of dark Italian fairytales
Director:Matteo Garrone
Featuring:Salma Hayek, Toby Jones, Vincent Cassel, Bebe Cave, Christian Lees, Franco Pistoni, Guillaume Delaunay, Hayley Carmichael, John C Reilly, Jonah Lees, Kathryn Hunter, Laura Pizzirani, Shirley Henderson, Stacy Martin
Length:133 minutes
Country:France, Italy, UK
Released:17th June 2016


This tale of tales is the telling of three dark sixteenth century fairytales, each set in neighbouring kingdoms.

In one, the Queen of Longtrellis (Salma Hayek) strikes a deal with a sorcerer to become a mother, accepting that there could be tragic consequences – and when those consequences include her servant having an identical twin to her own son, despite her best efforts, the fate of the prince and the pauper are inextricably entwined.

In another, the promiscuous King of Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel) is entranced into fidelity by the beautiful singing voice of one of his subjects. The elderly Dora (Hayley Carmichael) wants to be seduced by the King but knows he would not accept her aged body, but a chance encounter with a witch gives her the youth she craves.

And nearby, the King of Highhills (Toby Jones) is trying to find a husband for his daughter Violet (Bebe Cave) and in setting what he believes is an impossible contest to find her suitor, ends up giving her hand to an Ogre (Guillaume Delaunay) – an outcome she cannot and will not accept.


This gothic horror is not what you might expect from the director of the acclaimed mafia drama Gomorrah, but Matteo Garrone feels right at home with Giambattista Basile’s sixteenth century tales.

He confidently – if not entirely effectively – intertwines the three strands, each one as visually stunning and thematically bold as the next, continuously shocking and surprising with beauties, beasts, albinos, hags, witches and a gallery of grotesques.

From the scenery to the costumes and make-up, every frame would make a striking poster and with delightful use of language, the screenplay for Garrone’s first English-language film would make riveting bedtime reading, although at times the Italian fails to get the best possible performances from some of his English-speakers.

It’s notable how unusually little incidental music is featured, enabling a compelling sound design to stand out.

But unlike many better known fairytales that have made their way through British culture, there are few morals to be delivered from poor decisions made and little justice for those who have wronged, leaving you wondering why you have been asked to endure such uncomfortable – although no less dramatic – when there is nothing to be learned to make us better people.

It is certainly interesting that in all three cases, the stories are summed up in terms of the king or queen but the true central characters are the victims of their decisions, but other than this, the three tales have little in common, except that they appear to be happening in the vicinity of each other – but Tale of Tales is, essentially, three separate tales, stitched together – unnecessarily and at times confusingly intertwined – each of which might have made effective short films or could have been extended into their own feature films but don’t sit particularly well within the framework of a single film.