Strictly Ballroom is a modern Australian fairy tale, telling the story of a Prince Charming – Paul Mercurio’s Scott, the heir apparent to the local ballroom crown – and his ‘ugly duckling’ dance partner turned Disney princess, Fran (Tara Morice). Centring on the countdown to the all-important Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championships, this is a film of love and betrayal, creativity and conservativism, song and dance.
The offscreen story of Strictly Ballroom is as much a fairy tale as the colourful tapestry it weaves onscreen. Adapted for the cinema from Baz Luhrmann’s stage play by producers Ted Albert and Tristram Miall, the film was a phenomenal success – eventually. Strictly Ballroom faced early distribution hurdles, with a prominent cinema chain dropping it “after an executive believed the film was not worthy of a cinema release.” But acceptance into the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard programme brought acclaim (and awards: the now-defunct Prix De Jeunesse, or “Youth Prize”, was bestowed upon the film) and forged a path towards local success, kicking off with its premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival on August 20, 1992.
While the film had a mixed response from critics – Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman described it as “very familiar” with an “insolent facsimile of grand passion”, while Roger Ebert offered reserved praise to the film’s “sense of madness and mania running just beneath its surface” – it was an unequivocal success with local audiences. Raking in over 20 million dollars at the local box office – and over $80 million internationally – Strictly Ballroom remains in the top 10 highest grossing Australian films of all time a quarter of a century later.