An award-winning turn from Portman

From the very outset the latest offering from director Darren Aronofsky Black Swan is just that – black.

Tuesday, 25th January 2011, 4:30 pm

The story centres around Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) a young dancer in a top New York ballet company.

Striving for absolute perfection, the lead role that she so craves has so far eluded her.

But on the announcement that principle dancer turned has-been Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) is to retire, Nina sees her chance to go for glory as the lead in Swan Lake.

During auditions for the part of Princess Odette she is told by company director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) that her performance of the serene and innocent White Swan is perfect.

But he warns the vulnerable Nina that the real challenge will be playing the character’s evil twin, the seductive and passionate Black Swan.

After she bites him when he tries to steal a kiss after revealing the part has gone to another dancer, Thomas sees a spark of the Black Swan and hands Nina the role.

And so Nina embarks on a mission of self discovery, to uncover her own dark side and achieve the performance the part demands.

As rehearsals progress and her performance improves Nina, obsessed with perfection, becomes increasingly unhinged and detached from reality.

She begins to hallucinate, seeing her reflection take on a life of its own, and starts to fear that a rival dancer may try to usurp her.

Each night she returns home to resentful mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) whose own ballet career was cut short after falling pregnant with her talented daughter.

As a result, she has poured all of her anger into training Nina, and controls every aspect of her claustrophobic and controlled existence.

The predatory Thomas encourages Nina to admire the company’s new ballerina, the free spirited Lily (Mila Kunis) telling her that she embodies what it is to be the Black Swan and the pair become friends.

But does Lily simply want to steal Nina’s role?

After convincing Nina to go for a drink with her as an apology for revealing her fears to Thomas, Lily plies Nina with drink and drugs in an effort to losen her up.

When Nina oversleeps the next day, she turns up to rehearsals to find that Lily has been made her understudy.

As Nina’s anxiety intensifies, she becomes worried about a feathery skin-rash appearing on her back – is her quest to embody the black swan going too far?

In the ballet the White Swan eventually kills herself, unable to accept that her love has been taken from her by the Black Swan. Will Nina escape a similar fate?

An exquisite exploration of ambition, perfectionism and madness, Black Swan provides a peak into the all consuming desire to be the best.

Portman gives a stunning performance as the fragile and increasingly disturbed Nina. It is at times uncomfortable but always compelling viewing.

Believable from start to finish, she takes the audience on her character’s emotionally fraught journey, which continues to gather pace to its bitter sweet ending.

Portman’s performance has already bagged her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama and has been nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars.

Black Swan is a beautifully shot movie that had me gripped from beginning to end. Deliciously dark, it cannot fail to have you hooked. Truly one of this year’s must sees.

Claire O’Neill

star rating HHHHH