Reimaginings are all the rage and it was only a matter of time for 101 Dalmatian’s villain Cruella de Vil to get the reinvigorated treatment. Her dark, chain-smoking and fashion-obsessed personality was best brought to life by Glenn Close in the 1990s, her thirst for dog fur her primary driver for the action.
Here, in Cruella, director Craig Gillespie winds the clock back, providing some shades of grey to the character we love and loathe, leaning into Cruella’s well-known flamboyance for an exhilarating and stylish action caper.
By avoiding the context of the original novel by Dodie Smith in the 1950s, Gillespie can make the character and story his own. Here, Cruella takes place in the 1970s, against the backdrop of the punk explosion in the UK and in the wake of the Swinging 60s.
The colour and drama of the age is the perfect backdrop for this story in which Estella (Emma Stone) experiences a huge tragedy, turns to a life of crime, and gradually transforms into Cruella, leaning into her creativity and recklessness, and committed to becoming a fashion designer under the tutelage of fashion legend The Baroness (Emma Thompson) at one of the scariest fashion houses in London. Its mix of The Devil Wears Prada and Goodfellas feels fresh and akin to Gillespie’s other project I, Tonya.
Stone teases out the evil of Estella and retains the charisma that has led to her huge success as an actress. She plays Cruella with the same level of pomp yet keeps the audience on her side throughout. Matched with exhilarating montages and scenes, she brings humanity to the character in a way that compliments and doesn’t detract from her questionable acts.
Thompson is phenomenal as The Baroness, brash, cutthroat and as memorable as Meryl Streep’s turn as Miranda Priestly. Her fast movements and behaviour is a creation as iconic as Cruella herself. Playing it to perfection, Thompson is the perfect villain and steals every scene she’s in.
The enduring duel between the two Emma’s means that supporting players get little to work with. Despite this Joel Fry and Paul Water Hauser do their thing as Cruella’s minions and a short appearance by Anita (a nod to the original story) by Kirby Howell-Baptists leaves much to be desired.
The film is long and could have trimmed time from its run time, yet the energy remains high and dynamic. Stacked with banging songs from some of the best artists of the 1960s and 70s, this film is a cinematic crime romp with plenty of style and fun that makes Cruella as a character, a joy to watch and somewhat jealous of her vivaciousness. If that’s not a win, I don’t know what is.