The film opens with a brisk gallop through Estella’s childhood. Played by Tipper Selfert-Cleveland, she is something of a misfit with her half blond, half brunette hair and her unusual ambition for a child to be a fashion designer. Bullied at school and then expelled, she witnesses the dramatic death of her beloved mother, takes to the urchin life on the streets and is befriended by fellow urchins/petty criminals Horace and Jasper. They offer to share with her the rundown attic in a derelict warehouse which is their home, while she in return designs some imaginative disguises to aid them in their pickpocketing activities.
Then through the magic of cinema in a trice we find the attic has been transformed into a somewhat chic loft apartment by the now adult Estella (Emma Stone), still best friends and flatmates with Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jaspar (Joel Fry). Still too pining for a career in fashion she starts literally at the bottom in Liberty’s department store cleaning the lavs – nice plug for Liberty, it’s usually Harrods that gets the movie gig.
But then one day leading fashion designer The Baroness (Emma Thompson) makes her stately entrance into the store and takes a fancy to the eccentric window display Estella has accidentally created when somewhat inebriated. The Baroness offers her a job and it looks like the young woman’s dreams are about to come true.
Until that is Estella discovers that the Baroness has stolen something from her late mother and then the sparks really start to fly, when Estella creates her alter-ego Cruella, whose extravagant stunts and even more extravagant dresses upstage the Baroness at every turn and every fashionable event.
The film looks truly amazing. Both leading ladies get to wear elaborate gowns that are a total knockout in terms of colour and style. Their make up is pretty sensational too. And for settings the film makers have found some of the most glamourous and attractive locations in Britain.
Stone and Thompson have a good go at acting each other off the screen, Thompson with a wonderfully camp, imperious air and Stone with youthful cunning and determination. There’s also a large cast of enthusiastic, equally well dressed and sometimes equally camp support, including Mark Strong, somewhat underused as the Baroness’s chief of staff.
Director Craig Gillespie almost choreographs the film at times in an interestingly artificial way that suggests an animated cartoon, which is using real actors. The action is accompanied much of the time by a high octane run down of hit songs from the latter half of the twentieth century, played at a volume which is exciting but sometimes deafening. The film moves at a goodly pace throughout, often quite breathless with so many twists and turns of the plot in its two and quarter hours that by the time you get to the final one your head is spinning and it feels like a twist too far for your poor brain to absorb.
Oh, and there are some dalmatians in the story too, plus a couple of other really cute little dogs, who are part of Cruella’s gang.
Cruella is in cinemas and available on Disney with Premier Access from May 28th