Cruella (4 stars)

Cruella

Emmas Stone and Thompson are sensational in this on point origin story from Craig Gillespie

'I'm Cruella, born brilliant, born bad, and a little bit mad,' hisses Emma Stone as she offers us her hugely enjoyable twist on Dodie Smith's iconic 'evil thing', brought to screen so unforgettably in Disney's 1961 animation One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Ms de Vil is facing off against her own formidable adversary in this splendid live action origin story from I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie, and she's a rival who is as wicked as they come. Playing The Baroness, a frighteningly competitive aristocratic fashion designer, Emma Thompson devours the role with relish and very nearly makes away with the show.

The plot sees the young Cruella, then known as Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland), resist her naughty nature with the help of her kind mother Catherine (Emily Beecham). Following a devastating and mystery-shrouded incident at a stately pile, Estella heads solo to London and falls in with two similarly adrift kids, Jasper and Horace (played by Ziggy Gardner and Joseph MacDonald as children, and Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser as adults). The three grift successfully as a gang before the grown-up Estella (Stone) finds her true calling as an apprentice to the aforementioned designer. When Estella discovers her employer may have a connection to her tragic past, the dark side of her character returns and Cruella is reborn.

Fleshing out cinematic baddies hasn't always proved fun, whether it's the more grimly worthy tack of Joker, or the relative toothlessness of Maleficent. And Cruella is a tricky one to get right; she might be a protagonist plucked from her antagonistic origins in a children's novel and animated adventure, but her criminal swagger and penchant for animal cruelty means that placing her up front doesn't exactly scream family friendly fare.

In the end, the balance is well struck, with the film skewing dark enough to give it some edge, whether it's the foot-stomping rebelliousness of its rock'n'roll soundtrack or the content of its narrative, which features arson, copious quantities of theft, murder and more. And yet it never really feels unpalatable or horribly inappropriate, for older kids at least (it's been rated 12A), with more of an air of mischief than anything else and something of the punky, if not sweary, spirit of Birds of Prey. Meanwhile, the costumes from double Oscar-winner Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road) are outrageously eye-catching, and the montages so rollicking you may forgive the film's slight dependence on them.

Building on the ruthless female rivalry which won her such acclaim in The Favourite and blessed with the kind of face that can expertly convey the more cartoonish elements of the comedy, Stone seethes, stews and schemes with aplomb. And Thompson gives her truly vile villainess plenty of oomph, taking a perfectionist's care with her delivery. What a treat it is to watch these ladies spar.

Available to watch in cinemas and on Disney+ Premier Access from Fri 28 May.

Cruella

  • 4 stars
  • 2021
  • US
  • 2h 14min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Craig Gillespie
  • Cast: Emma Stone, Mark Strong, Emma Thompson

Emma Stone takes on the role of a young Cruella de Vil.