Cruella (2021) is a catwalk of cartoon-inspired fun with terrific turns from Emmas Stone and Thompson.

Cruella Review

There’s a dispiriting trend at the moment to take iconic villains of page, stage and screen, isolate them from their usual narrative and furnish them with an explanatory, excusatory or – worst of all – redemptive back story which turns them into the victims of circumstance or an indifferent world. While CRUELLA seems, at first, to cut its cloth to suit that particular silhouette, it’s tailored to deceive and, as it weaves together its various threads it delivers the reassuringly sly message that CRUELLA is wicked, not because of some tragic incident but because being bad is in her designer genes.

When Estella is orphaned at a young age, she finds herself alone and destitute on the streets of London. Befriended by two young street thieves Jasper and Horace, Estella grows up grifting in the city for ten years until Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) manage to cheat their way to getting Estella (Emma Stone) a job in her favourite department store to pursue her dream career in fashion. It’s not long before she catches the eye of ruthless fashion doyenne The Baroness (Emma Thompson).

In assembling its collection, CRUELLA takes inspiration from a number of off-the-rack sources, including MANNEQUIN, THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and, in one particularly amusing twist, V FOR VENDETTA but it embroiders these moments with an exquisite sense of high camp and even higher fashion.  Defining the entire ensemble are two towering performances from Emmas Stone and Thompson. Stone strikes the perfect balance between light and darkness, bringing the Ying/ Yang dichotomy of her trademark tresses to life as she embraces her bad side in order to do good. This isn’t a tale of a villain being driven to villainy, this is very much the story of a heroine succumbing to corruption. The source of that corruption, by influence and example, is Thompson’s Baroness, a triumphantly caustic and callous creation who cuts through the world of London fashion with a deliciously realised disdain for everyone and everything but herself.

The central story of these two feuding fashionistas is accessorised with a wonderful assembled supporting cast, many of whom are there to provide a cohesiveness to the piece and connect it to whichever version of Dodie Smith’s celebrated novel takes your fancy.

At over two hours, CRUELLA might be cut a bit long for some tastes and, yes, the finer detail of some of the CGI is a little sloppy but these are minor quibbles for what is, in its entirety, a spectacular catwalk of terrific performances, exquisite costumes and a sumptuous if somewhat indulgent and over-curated soundtrack.

Score 8