Love, Cecil

Review by Joe Boden

Directed by

Lisa Immordino Vreeland

Starring

Cecil Beaton Hamish Bowles Leslie Caron

Anticipation.

Cecil Beaton is as watchable a figure as a documentary maker could hope for.

Enjoyment.

An arduous wade through what amounts to little more than a whistle-stop puff-piece.

In Retrospect.

Any modicum of interest stems only from the charisma of its subject.

Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland offers a glossy and superficial profile of photographer and socialite Cecil Beaton.

Picture a documentarian seeking to concoct an ideal subject. One that captures the allure of the unconventional and the charismatic. That permeates culture in such a way as to touch upon nearly every facet of creative history. Cecil Beaton is that subject. Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s Love, Cecil follows the artist from childhood through to his life as an illustrator and photographer for Vogue magazine and his eventual liaisons with the elite of high Society. It’s prime real estate for intriguing moviemaking, but the director fails to capture the essence of the man with this by-the-numbers work that never succeeds in establishing a tone worthy of such an interesting character.

As documentary moviemaking goes, it’s perfunctory in the extreme. The film is comprised of little more than archival footage interspersed with Beaton’s photographic portfolio and a series of talking-head interviews. The footage itself never delves into the nitty-gritty of his process, preferring to show Beaton revelling in his garden or frolicking in a lake. The interviews themselves are rose-tinted and hold the man in nothing but high esteem.

When the subject of Beaton’s alleged anti-Semitic remarks raises its head, Vreeland glosses over potential admonitions with apologist statements and Cecil’s own assertion that half of his friends are Jewish. It’s a terse and lazy creative decision, and it’s not the only one on show. Bereft of any dramatic heft, the movie feels more televisual than something which belongs in a cinema. Moreover, the level of focus is so slight as to be non-existent. Instead of offering up any insights into the man’s life, Vreeland is content to revel in surface pleasures.

It’s a terrible shame, as there are moments of gold to pan out from the muck. Whether it’s Beaton describing his sisters as “gauche, ugly little schoolgirls” or labelling his 1972 knighting as “practically posthumous”, he’s a man filled to the gills with mischievous whimsy. He’s an acerbic, almost misanthropic figure who displays a Wildean wit that stands in stark contrast to the beige edifice of the rest of this bland profile. Described as a man who thrived on rejecting the banal and the commonplace, it’s a tragedy that he should find his vibrancy quashed by such a lacklustre and, ultimately, boring piece of filmmaking.

Published 30 Nov 2017

Anticipation.

Cecil Beaton is as watchable a figure as a documentary maker could hope for.

Enjoyment.

An arduous wade through what amounts to little more than a whistle-stop puff-piece.

In Retrospect.

Any modicum of interest stems only from the charisma of its subject.

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