mon 14/06/2021

Cruella review - fabulous fashions, creaky narrative | reviews, news & interviews

Cruella review - fabulous fashions, creaky narrative

Cruella review - fabulous fashions, creaky narrative

Craig Gillespie's film is a tale of two Emmas and only three Dalmatians

Say yes to the dress: Emma Stone as Cruella

Is Cruella the escapist blockbuster the Covid-blighted world has been waiting for? Well, it’s a feast for the eyes but 20 minutes too long, and for an origin story of the despicable Cruella De Vil of The Hundred and One Dalmations fame, it lacks the killer instinct when it comes to the crunch.

At the end of the day, Cruella may have some serious mother issues, but she isn’t really cruel.

Besides, we’ve had a consciousness-revolution about animal welfare since 1956, when Dodie Smith published her original Hundred and One Dalmatians novel. Smith’s Cruella was the acme of heartlessness, a woman keen to skin Dalmatian puppies for their fur. In this new Cruella-world, there are a mere three Dalmatians, trained to pounce at the command of their mistress, the Baroness (Emma Thompson, pictured below). Heinously, the Baroness describes her dogs as “savage”, when dog-lovers know that Dalmatians are adorably daft and affectionate.

Still, Craig Gillespie's film owes nothing to Smith’s book other than the title. The action is located in a London more reminiscent of My Fair Lady than, say, Top Boy or A Clockwork Orange, and a soundtrack bristling with classic pop songs – The Zombies’ “Time of the Season”, “These Boots Were Made for Walking”, the Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow” and “Sympathy for the Devil” – lends an aura of Swinging London and Carnaby Street. As the action shades into the Seventies, fastidious telltale signs include the police driving Rover 2000s and early Range Rovers, while The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” soundtracking a spectacular runway fashion show slip some essence of Punk into the mix.

As for the story, from a writing team including Dana Fox and Tony The Favourite McNamara, it’s like a mashup of The Devil Wears Prada, Cinderella, Charles Dickens and a sliver of Mary Poppins as it charts the story of the orphan Estella (Emma Stone) as she scuffles her way from poverty to Diva Power in the big city. The big driver of the narrative is Estella’s mammoth struggle with the Baroness, empress of the London fashion scene, a ruthless self-mythologiser and exterminator of any opposition. You could say the two of them have history.

Thompson is almost too good, inhabiting the role with a bombastic and majestic self-regard which sweeps all before her. Her withering put-downs, delivered with a bored but contemptuous aristocratic timbre, crush her underlings underfoot. Perhaps it wasn’t a great idea, therefore, to have Stone adopting an almost identical accent, but not quite as convincingly, to indicate the way Estella blossoms into her own identity as Cruella, the fearless new-wave fashion doyenne. There’s even a scene where the two Emmas seem to be impersonating each other’s speech patterns.

The supporting cast includes Estella’s two slapstick buddies Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), who first meet her when she’s destitute and sleeping on a park bench, then accompany her through assorted adventures as they thieve and scuffle their way to a brighter future. Their antics provide light relief, though the jokes and stunts are never quite sharp enough. Mark Strong puts in a diligent stint as John, the Baroness’s long-suffering valet, until his conscience can’t take it any more.

For fashionistas, though, Cruella is a treat, because it’s packed with glaring, daring and outlandish frocks, and some spectacular costume-ball set pieces (gongs must lie in wait for costume designer Jenny Beavan). The sequence where Stone sets her nun-like garb on fire to emerge, phoenix-like, in a sizzling crimson dress is a real coup-de-cinema, while the daring gold-bauble-flecked outfit which undergoes a freakish metamorphosis has to be seen to be believed. Yet Cruella can offer down-to-earth, practical advice too – “a well-cut skirt is a life-saver, girls.”

Thompson is almost too good, inhabiting the role with a bombastic and majestic self-regard

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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