Deep waters in circus tale

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TWILIGHT heart throb Robert Pattinson joins forces with Hollywood stalwart Reese Witherspoon in this adaptation of Sara Gruen’s romantic period drama.

Water for Elephants is a tale is told in 90-minute flashback, with a big screen budget and an A-list cast, complimented by Rosie the nine-foot elephant.

Eighty-six year-old Hal Holbrook kicks it off as Jacob Jankowski, who wanders geriatrically around a modern circus and is taken in by the young owner.

When the owner learns Jacob – a once homeless veterinary student – is an old circus hand who survived a famous disaster of the 1930s, he settles in to hear the tale of the Benzini Bros’ travelling show.

It’s a story of tragedy, deceit, illusion, abuse, murder and, naturally, secret love.

Nastiness and brutality vie with attempts to evoke the magic of circus, but these are somewhat unconvincing in practice.

Outbursts with drunken dwarves are curiously joyless, and the romance feels equally forced.

So thank heavens the climactic catastrophe is appropriately dreadful.

But for a dying circus whose animals are starving, Witherspoon’s animal trainer, Marlena, is almost too glamorous, holding court in a handsomely appointed railway carriage boudoir.

Pattinson is, in his quiet way, the sympathetic central character since his ardent young Jacob is the one commencing a big life journey.

But Christoph Waltz’s tyrannical August, husband to our dazzling heroine, is horribly fascinating: charming and charismatic one moment and savagely sadistic the next.

Overall the action is high on melodrama and seared with drama and doom.