VOD film review: Ladyhawke
James R | On 13, Aug 2021
Director: Richard Donner
Cast: Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Broderick, John Wood
Where to watch Ladyhawke online in the UK: Disney+ UK / Apple TV+ / Sky Store / CHILI
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. A young thief escapes capture, only to end up the squire for a crossbow-wielding outlaw who can transform into a wolf and is in love with a hawk. That’s the absurd yet adorable premise behind Ladyhawke, Richard Donner’s 1985 fantasy romance – and the result is as dated as it is delightful.
Rutger Hauer (who else?) plays Navarre, the intimidating warrior with lupine tendencies, who, we learn, is cursed by a sinister bishop (John Wood). But his werewolf-like existence is just part of the hex: the other involves the hawk, who (you guessed it), is actually his lover, Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer). She is winged by day and transforms back into a human at night, which leaves the two forever apart and unable to be together.
Enter Gaston (Matthew Broderick), who stumbles into the path of Navarre while running from the dungeons of the bishop. After Navarre saves him from the bishop’s guards, he ends up helping him on his quest – even though he doesn’t discover until later what exactly the situation is.
The result is a strangely straight-faced fantasy, with the cast treating every element of the story with a serious sincerity. With the exception of Matthew Broderick, that is, who’s on Ferris Bueller-like form (he would go on to star in John Hughes’ teen classic the following year) as the bemused and eager Gaston, who will do anything to stay alive – and make wisecracking observations as he does it. That’s all the film needs to keep things light and entertaining, while also allowing Hauer and Pfeiffer to commit fully to their implausible romance. She’s vulnerable, mysterious and resilient, while he’s stoic and heroic, with just a slight hint of a rascally grin – and even though they spend most of the film’s runtime apart, it’s hard not to root for them.
The pacing of the script is sometimes a little leaden (this is no The Princess Bride), but Donner’s juggling of tone is spot-on, marshalling his cast with the same canny craftsmanship as he does the special effects, which rely more on editing and camerawork than CGI or prosthetics. Combined with gorgeously filmed landscapes across Northern Italy by DoP Vittorio Storaro, the result is a charmingly old-fashioned adventure that manages to soar and swoon with the best of them, while still finding time for some 80s synth-rock and an actual joust-off in the middle of a church. Treated with heartfelt earnestness by Donner, there’s something wonderfully innocent about the whole thing – it’s not that they don’t make them like this anymore, but that you can’t imagine anyone else making it at all.
Ladyhawke is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.