Love conquers fear and intolerance twice upon a time in director Joachim Ronning’s fantastical sequel based on characters from Disney’s 1959 animation Sleeping Beauty and Charles Perrault’s fairy tale La Belle Au Bois Dormant.

Stuffed to the seams with digitally rendered creatures, Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil is slow-cooked to the same family-friendly recipe as the first film and underscores the empowerment of female characters in breathlessly staged action sequences.

Women resolutely hold sway in a script co-written by Linda Woolverton, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue, which spares no expense with lavish spectacle but is thrifty with character development and plot twists. Angelina Jolie reprises her role as the winged warrior reborn by motherly love.

She’s more reactive and less imposing in the sequel but snags a few deliciously droll one-liners like when Maleficent is greeted by a baying mob of weaponised townsfolk and cackles, “Pitchforks? Humans are hilarious!”

Special effects overload, the scourge of modern blockbusters, impacts the final 30 minutes and dilutes the impact of pivotal scenes of self-sacrifice and devotion.

The heart-warming redemption of dark fairy Maleficent (Jolie) has been lost to the sands of time. Once again, she is the shadowy villain of nervously whispered legends in the human world.

Magical creatures continue to live in harmony on the Moors, where Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) blossoms in her role as queen of the enchanted realm with guidance from adopted mother Maleficent and shape-shifting henchman Diaval (Sam Riley).

Aurora’s sweetheart Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) goes down on bended knee and the princess accepts his proposal. Their union promises to bridge the divide between the Moors and humankind. Philip’s parents, King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), invite Aurora, Maleficent and Diaval to their castle to celebrate the engagement.

Maleficent is reluctant to accept.

“Why on earth would I go?” she scoffs.

“Because his mother wishes to meet mine,” sweetly counters Aurora.

The two tribes declare an uneasy truce over the dinner table until a member of the royal household falls victim to Maleficent’s sleeping curse.

Aurora’s allegiances are tested as

Queen Ingrith declares war on the fairy folk and raises an army led by captain of the royal guards, Percival (David Gyasi).

Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil is an impressively staged but emotionally lightweight second chapter in Aurora’s coming of age, which introduces us to a hidden kingdom of dark fairies reminiscent of Pandora in Avatar.

Fanning radiates sweetness while Pfeiffer looks lustrous as she slinks through a narrative laden with predictable betrayals and hard-fought absolution.

Riley and Dickinson, replacing Brenton Thwaites as Aurora’s strapping love interest, are largely surplus to requirements as Ronning seeks a well-trodden path to the fabled land of happy ever afters.


Bristol-based Aardman Animation takes one giant leap for lambkind by introducing a rainbow-coloured alien to the tranquil surroundings of Mossingham. Denizens of Mossy Bottom Farm including the naughty pigs and rooster (the clucking image of Rocky from Chicken Run) remain in the background of Jon Brown and Mark Burton’s script.

The sequel is lighter on visual gags – a local supermarket stocks jars of Roswell’s jam and signage for H.G. Wheels Autos is a cute nod to The War Of The Worlds – but action set pieces are orchestrated with brio.

Shaun (Justin Fletcher) and his farmyard buddies clash with Bitzer the sheepdog (John Sparkes), who wants to restrict fun in the absence of Farmer John (Chris Morrell).

While the master is lost in fanciful daydreams of purchasing a new combine harvester, Shaun and the flock drive Bitzer to the brink of barking madness by firing sheep out of a giant cannon.

Late one night, an alien spaceship descends on Mossingham and a cute creature called Lu-La (Amalia Vitale) finds its way – via a pizza delivery cyclist – to the farm. Shaun stumbles upon Lu-La in a barn and befriends the extra-terrestrial with slices of leftover pizza.

The plucky sheep vows to help the stricken extra-terrestrial return to her hidden spaceship and send a distress signal into outer space. Unfortunately, Agent Red (Kate Harbour) and her team of operatives in bright yellow hazmat suits are on Lu-La’s trail and they intend to capture the alien.

A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon is an entertaining sequel, which replicates the emotional heartbeats of Spielberg’s classic ET, underscored with earthy humour and lively musical interludes.

OFFICIAL SECRETS (15) Three stars

A British spy risks her freedom “to stop a war and save lives” in the slow-burning thriller Official Secrets. Based on the true story of whistleblower Katharine Gun, who leaked top-secret information to the press in 2003 as Tony Blair prepared to take Britain to war in Iraq, director Gavin Hood’s picture bristles with indignation at a political establishment willing to manufacture a narrative to justify military intervention.

Keira Knightley delivers a compelling lead performance as Gun. The script arms her with polished dialogue to refute allegations that she has betrayed her homeland.

Knightley brings steely determination, fragility and naivete to her role, portraying her mild-mannered informant as a reluctant heroine, who risks being crushed in the gear wheels of a well-oiled government machine. Curiously, the fire in Gun’s belly fails to ignite Hood’s conventional dramatisation.

Gun works as a translator at Government Communications Headquarters in Cheltenham. Ahead of a pivotal UN Security Council meeting, Gun and colleagues receive an email from American counterparts at the National Security Agency (NSA) asking for information on member nations including Angola, Cameroon and Pakistan, “who could swing the vote in favour of war”.

Gun is deeply troubled and she secretly prints out a copy of the email and leaks the contents, via a friend, to journalist Yvonne Ridley (Hattie Morahan), who in turn passes the damning request to Martin Bright (Matt Smith) at The Observer.

The script is disappointingly light on tension even when Gun suspects that she is under surveillance. Anchored by Knightley’s emotionally charged performance, Hood’s picture repeatedly reminds us that in times of conflict, the cold, unvarnished and uncomfortable truth is sometimes among the casualties.