Oh, WOW. Buckle your seats, guys, this review is going to be a long one! Well, where do I begin? Regular readers of this blog may well remember that the character of Belle- the original character from the French tale- was actually one of last year’s Literary Heroes of the Month (#LHOTM,) and that in that post I describe how much of a huuuuuge fan I am of the Disney film. And if it’s not clear from that post, let me reassure you, I AM A HUGE FAN. So huge that I actually watched Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast: An Enchanted Christmas’ last Christmas. And loved it. And maybe shed a few teeny tiny happy tears.
So you can imagine how absolutely over the moon I was to watch this film, especially as it stars some of my favourite actors- Emma Watson as Belle (She’s a feminist! She was in Harry Potter! She wears eco-friendly fashion! I love her!) Dan Stevens- Matthew in Downton Abbey-as the Beast (**Sigh!**) Ian McKellen (GANDALF!) as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts…I could go on, really. And of course they all acted to their utmost best all the way through it. (Mrs. Potts I found particularly endearing, which was surprising, as I am the hugest fan of Angela Lansbury, who played Mrs. Potts in the original animated version.) I also loved her version of ‘Tale As Old as Time’-though nothing can beat the original.
And the singing, I hear you ask? Well, Emma Watson’s voice is very pure and easy to listen to- I especially enjoyed her rendition of the song ‘Belle’ and new music such as the Beast‘s own song- ‘Evermore’- was a surprising treat. In fact, I loved it so much I’ve been listening to it ON REPEAT on Spotify. (I would recommend having a listen- the whole soundtrack is amazing (though admittedly I’m not keen on the Ariana Grande/John Legend duet of ‘Tale as Old as Time.’)
For me, the orchestral music was the best. As soon as the incredible orchestral-version of the ‘Beauty and the Beast‘ theme tune started to play over the opening credits, though, I think everyone in the audience just melted into a happy puddle. It is a soundtrack I would definitely recommend getting.
But first things first- what is the film actually like? Well, let me tell you. It is hands-down, knee-knockingly, jaw-droppingly amazing. Visually stunning with so many layers it could practically be a mille-feuille, this film is as gilded and as luxurious as a Faberge egg. The Beast‘s cursed palace is not some Gothic 1D blancmange of grey stone, (as I hate to say it was in the Disney film,) here it is as intricately detailed as the court of Versailles, with eye-achingly beautiful details that left me- and the rest of the cinema- astounded: gilded ceilings, canopied beds, topiary crafted into sensual, undulating waves around a frozen lake, golden lacquer twisted into trailing vines, oil paintings, statutary, gargoyles…I could go on, but words cannot do proper justice to the sheer lavishness of this film. Even from the opening titles alone, this movie screams ‘massive millions-of-pounds budget’, and ‘no expense spared.’ And boy, does it pay off.
The costumes too, are lovingly crafted, right down to the patchwork details on Belle’s dress, the colour of her ribbon headband, her practical, flat-heeled boots. She is certainly no damsel in distress- able to ride a horse, help pick a lock and fight off some truly fearsome, grizzled wolves. Costume and colour also serve as indicators of characters’ personalities- Gaston (a wonderful Luke Evans) is the lantern-jawed muscular He-Man one would expect to fulfil a tradition hero’s role (as he says memorably- and repeatedly- to LeFou, ‘It’s hero time.’) And yet for all the women in the village yearning for him, he is also grotesque- a parading, preening vain buffoon with a quiff and garish gold buttons, who provides most of the film’s comic moments, as well as its darker ones. I loved relationship between Belle and her kind, dreamy father, Maurice (Kevin Kline,) and the gay inferences between Gaston and LeFou- expertly handled with both humour and consideration, I thought- and I particularly enjoyed a little cross-dressing twist towards the end. My favourite scene, however, was actually the very first opening scene, where beautifully jewel coloured grains of dye were painstakingly applied, with tiny brushes, to the Prince’s face.
This is before his transformation/transmogrification into the Beast, and yet he is already wearing a mask- a swirling shadow of midnight blues and blacks that seems to shield his real face as he lounges in front of a grand hall of dancing, peacocking guests. He is both Dorian Gray and the portrait at once: his hair is tied back with a ribbon, his face is painted lead-white, his lips drawn over with red, a beauty spot on his cheek. He is decadence personified, a vain and bored aesthete warped by too much power. As Mrs. Potts says, he was ‘twisted up.’ I particularly liked the use of this makeup/mask because it makes him look, one would argue, androgynous- a daring, provocative step for Disney’s chosen Prince. And yet it works, and the details are stunning. His wasp-waisted jacket and breeches could have been stolen straight from the court of the Sun King himself, and yet they are a glittering black, seemingly pointing to his darker, narrower, more self-centred personality.
The whole scene reminded me vividly of the work of Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen (1886-1957)- so much so so that I wouldn’t have been surprised if his work was actually a point of reference for the film’s designers and conceptual artists. The foppish, cruel Prince and his simpering debutantes also recalled the sinister, monochromatic courtiers of Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) or, ‘Weirdsley Beardsley’ as he was nicknamed. Beardsley himself was an influence for Nielsen, and interestingly, Nielsen in fact used to work for Disney at one point in his artistic career.
Illustration by Kay Nielsen for The Twelve Dancing Princesses
Illustration by Kay Nielsen for In Powder and Crinoline
Illustration by Aubrey Beardsley (I believe the title may be Georgian Drawing Room)
The tiny, memorable detail of the paints and dyes used to paint the Prince’s face- signifying a theme of illusion and superficiality over real, sincere emotion- is something that lingered with me, and throughout the film. It seems, at many points, as though many of the characters are wearing their own kind of masks- whether real or metaphorical- to shield themselves from the world: Belle’s books, Maurice’s inventions, Gaston’s affable charm, which hides his true, cruel nature.
Costume, of course, plays a strong role in this. When the Beast first meets Belle, his beautiful robes have been shredded to rags- probably by himself, in a fit of rage- barely hanging from his hairy, broad back. And at the finale (because yes, this has a happy ending, folks,) he is wearing gorgeous cerulean blue robes the colour of an endless summer sky- a hopeful, bright colour that twins with the dress Belle first wears in the village. The two leads aren’t exactly hard on the eye, either, which helps raise the film’s glamour stakes. Whilst many of the villagers and palace servants are either grotesques or cartoonish characters in puffed-up pompadour wigs and elaborate hats and frocks, both Belle (Emma Watson) and the Prince (Dan Stevens) have a pure, relatable sort of beauty that had the cinema glued to each and every outfit they wore, every expression they made. When the Beast was transformed into the Prince, one girl beside me (I PROMISE IT WASN’T ME,) actually gasped and said “Oh, he’s so gorgeous.” She wasn’t the only one- I think the whole cinema swooned and began to fan themselves.
But for me, it was more about just their appearances. Emma Watson’s Belle was as strong minded and fearless as the original, and Dan Steven’s Beast had the same gravelly voice, the same blue eyes, the same guarded demeanor that slowly thaws- like the icy palace grounds- into something softer and warmer. It’s worth mentioning that he’s lovely even AS the Beast. Even though EVERYONE knows how this film ends, you still watch it wanting Belle and the Prince to get together, because they seem so perfect for each other- especially as both of them have learned the true value on not judging on appearances. (For instance, Belle is disappointed when Gaston sees her only as a pretty trophy wife- “in town there is only she, who is as beautiful as me!” he sings proudly- and the Beast, on the other hand, longs for Belle to see past his beastly outer appearance to the true man underneath.)
This film is also surprisingly moving, as well as gripping- some parts actually made me gasp, and I KNOW HOW IT ENDS! In the infamous waltz scene- which was truly dazzling-the poor girl beside me (who seemed to act as a mirror for the whole audience’s feelings) dissolved into sobs. Actual, shoulders-heaving, racking sobs. The thing was, I have a feeling she wasn’t the only one in the cinema crying (I may have shed a tear or two myself.) This is the kind of film that ties you up in emotional, happy knots, and truly fulfils all your dreams of romance and happy-ever-afters. More than that, it’s not as 1D as Disney’s previous live-action ‘Cinderella’- this is a darker, more layered film with a strong feminist character at its core. As I said to my friend Katie from Books and Things– after fangirling over this movie for about an hour- you’d have to have a heart of stone not to love it. So, I implore you- be my guest, and watch it.
Overall rating: 10 out of 10 (I’d give it eleven if I could. In fact, yeah, let’s give it 11! 11/10!)
This film in four words: Romantic. Lavish. Exceptional. Groundbreaking.
Favourite Character: The Prince