Based on the character from the novel One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, Cruella is an origin story of a young woman whose aspirations to be a fashion designer has her going against a cruel fashion queen set in the backdrop of late 1970s Britain during the age of punk. Directed by Craig Gillespie and screenplay by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara from a story by Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel, and Steve Zissis, the film is an offbeat take on the story of Cruella de Vil as a young woman who is trying to make her mark in the world of fashion as she is portrayed by Emma Stone. Also starring Emma Thompson, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Joel Fry, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, John McCrea, and Mark Strong. Cruella is an exhilarating and thrilling film from Craig Gillespie.
Set in late 1970s Britain against the backdrop of the punk rock movement, the film revolves around a young woman who works with thieves as she gets a job working for a revered yet cruel fashion queen known as Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson) only to go into war against her following some revelations and such. It is a film that is an origin story of sorts of how this young woman who would become Cruella de Vil would wreak havoc in the world of fashion and also deal with the events that defined her life including the death of her mother Catherine (Emily Beecham) when she was a child. The film’s screenplay by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara does have a straightforward narrative as it is largely told from Cruella’s perspective from her birth to her defiance in the world of fashion. Cruella, then known as Estella, lives with a couple of thieves in Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) along a couple of dogs. Upon getting a job to work for the Liberty department store in London, Estella would realize the job is a low-level janitor job until she drunkenly creates a window display that gets the Baroness’ attention.
In working for the Baroness directly, it seemed like the dream job that Estella wanted as a way for herself and her friends to live a trouble-free life but also a chance to prove to her late mother that she’s finally becoming a good person. It is part of the development of Estella as someone who feels guilty when she witnessed her mother’s murder as she feels responsible for what happened as it lead to her going to London and meeting Jasper and Horace. The moment Estella sees the Baroness wearing a necklace that once belonged to Catherine is where things change while Estella gets to know more about this ambitious woman who thinks nothing but control and dominance. When Estella chooses to become Cruella as a way to rile up the Baroness and steal back the necklace. Revelations occur about the Baroness as it forces Estella to be Cruella in a series of schemes as she brings chaos while also unknowingly alienating those close to her.
Craig Gillespie’s direction is stylish as it definitely plays into this world of London in this clash of high couture fashion against the lower-class yet creative chaos in the world of punk rock in the late 1970s. Shot partially on location in London with much of it shot at Shepperton Studios in London, Gillespie does create a film that isn’t just this clash of cultures but also a young woman trying to find herself as he does create some unique compositions in the close-ups and medium shots to get a view of Estella/Cruella in the way she reacts to certain things or contemplating situations in her life. There are also some wide shots to get a scope into not just London and the Hellman Hall estate that the Baroness live in but also into the presentation that Cruella would create as the antithesis to the sophisticated and posh world of the Baroness. Gillespie would also use these intricate tracking shots that do go on for a few minutes as it play into these worlds in how Cruella would arrive at a gala held by the Baroness but also the world that Estella would encounter.
Gillespie would up the presentation of these fashion shows with the second act ending with a show that Cruella would have as it play into the spirit of punk rock at Regent Park. It would be followed by an example of how cruel the Baroness is but also some revelations about this woman and everything she would do to be successful to the point of murder and push anyone who gets in her way. While Cruella may have a mean streak of her own and would neglect her friends, there is that element of her that realizes that she is someone that does care as the third act is about her not just going after the Baroness. It’s also claiming her own identity but with the help of the people whom she refers to as her family as they would become part of something bigger that involves them. Overall, Gillespie crafts a wild and mesmerizing film about a young woman who creates an identity to upset a cruel fashion queen in the age of 1970s British punk rock.
Cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography in the usage of blue-grey colors for some of the exteriors in the day and night along with some stylish lighting to some of the interior scenes to help set the mood for the chaos that Cruella would bring. Editor Tatiana S. Riegel does excellent work with the editing as it has some stylish jump-cuts to play into the sense of anarchy that Cruella brings as well as some straightforward editing to play into the drama and suspense. Production designer Fiona Crombie, with set decorator Alice Felton and supervising art director Martin Foley, does amazing work with the look of Hellman Hall where the Baroness live as well as the flat that Cruella lives with Jasper and Horace plus the fashion shows that the two women create. Costume designer Jenny Beaven does incredible work with the costumes as it doesn’t just play into the different styles of fashion in 1970s but also in showcasing a lot of the personalities into the people who design them with Cruella creating fashion that is unique on its own.
Hair/makeup designer Nadia Stacey does tremendous work with the look of the hairstyles for both Cruella and the Baroness that both display their personalities and evolving look as the film progresses. Special effects supervisor Steve Warner and visual effects supervisor Max Wood do terrific work with the visual/special effects as it feature some unique action set pieces in some scenes along with some dressing in the visual effects. Sound designers Alan Rankin, Ann Scibelli, and Martyn Zub, with sound editor Mark P. Stoeckinger, do superb work with the sound from some of the sparse moments include the Baroness’ dog whistle to the way music sounds on a location.
The film’s music by Nicholas Britell is phenomenal for its mixture of bombastic and somber orchestral music that features elements of rock to play into the world of 70s music. Music supervisor Susan Jacobs creates a fun soundtrack that features pieces from the Rolling Stones, Ike and Tina Turner, the Bee Gees, the Doors, Supertramp, David Bowie, the Clash, Nina Simone, Ohio Players, Queen, Electric Light Orchestra, Georgia Gibbs, the Animals, Ken Dodd, Nancy Sinatra, the Zombies, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Suzi Quatro, a cover of the Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog by John McCrea, Doris Day, Tony Martin, Rose Royce, the J. Geils Band, Brigitte Fontaine, Judy Garland, and an original song by Florence and the Machine.
The casting by Lucy Beven and Mary Vernieu is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Andrew Leung as the Baroness’ assistant Jeffrey, Jamie Demetriou as Estella’s first boss at Liberty in Gerald, Kayvan Novak as the Baroness’ mistreated lawyer Roger Dearly who would later play a role for Cruella’s ascent, John McCrea as a vintage fashion shop owner in Artie who helps Cruella in creating some of her designs, Billie Gadsdon and Tipper Siefert-Cleveland in their respective roles as the five and 12-year old Estella, Florisa Kamara as the young Anita, Ziggy Gardner as the young Jasper, Joseph MacDonald as the young Horace, and Tom Turner in a brief role in a flashback sequence as the Baroness’ late husband. Emily Beecham is terrific as Estella’s mother Catherine as a woman who is trying to ensure that Estella has a normal childhood while also aware of her creativity. Kirby Howell-Baptiste is fantastic as Anita as a childhood friend of Estella/gossip columnist who often attends fashion shows as she is someone who praises Cruella while also being someone who keeps her identity a secret.
Mark Strong is excellent as the Baroness’ longtime valet/confidante John as a man who takes care of everything the Baroness wants as he’s also someone who knows a lot more than both the Baroness and Cruella realizes. Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser are brilliant in their respective roles as the thieves Jasper and Horace as the former is the smarter of the two thieves as someone who is careful but also someone with some morals as he is disturbed by Estella’s changing behavior while the latter is the funnier of the two as someone who is helpful but also does weird things in the scheme with Hauser sporting a gravelly British accent that is a tribute of sorts to the late Bob Hoskins. Emma Thompson is spectacular as Baroness von Hellman as a fashionista who is a control freak that demands perfection as she sees herself as the queen of haute couture where Thompson just eats up every moment she’s in while displaying a sense of charisma and melodrama at its most camp as it a performance for the ages. Finally, there’s Emma Stone in a career-defining performance as the titular character as this young woman with a creative mind for fashion as Stone brings up someone that wants to be good and do well only to take on a new persona as this wild fashionista from the world of punk where Stone just owns nearly every scene she’s in while having this great rapport with Thompson in their lone scenes together.
Cruella is a sensational film from Craig Gillespie that features an outstanding performance from Emma Stone along with a great supporting performance from Emma Thompson. Along with its supporting ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, Jenny Beaven’s dazzling costumes, and a kick-ass music soundtrack. It is a film that doesn’t just explore an origin story of one of the great villains in the world of Disney films but also a study of a young woman who finds her identity as a way to defy the world of a cruel woman who sees the world as hers. In the end, Cruella is a phenomenal film from Craig Gillespie.
Craig Gillespie Films: (Mr. Woodcock) – Lars and the Real Girl - (Fright Night (2011 film)) – (Million Dollar Arm) – (The Finest Hours) – I, Tonya
© thevoid99 2021
I liked this movie more as a stand-alone than relating to the Disney cartoon. Loved Emma Stone. LOVED the costumes!
I was so surprised by Cruella. My expectations were pretty low to be honest. But I had so much fun with it.
I keep forgetting that this is on Disney Plus for me to watch now! I need to get on that.
@Jay-I know there's a sequel coming as I do hope it has Cruella just be awesomely bad. I will be upset is Jenny Beaven doesn't get an Oscar nomination for Costume Design cause honestly, those dresses rocked!
@keith71_98-This was way better than I thought it would be as it definitely had the energy and spirit of punk as I just danced during "I Wanna Be Your Dog" like a wanker.
@Brittani-This film is just fun, fun, fun, fun...
Cool review! It had some pacing issues for me, but overall, it was a lot of fun as a standalone. I'm excited the sequel has been greenlit. It will be exciting to see how they develop the character and fashion house without being tethered to Emma Thompson's character.
@Katy-It didn't feel long to me at all as I just had a ball watching this film. I am excited for the sequel as I think it will be set in the early 80s during the New Romantics movement that inspired bands like Duran Duran, Culture Club, and Spandau Ballet as I also hope we get David Bowie's "Fashion" used in the film.
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