Belle’s not great, but much else is

Dan Stevens (of Downton Abbey) as Beast and Emma Watson (of Harry Potter fame) as Belle in Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast. It opens on April 13.


Review: Beauty and the Beast – Various cinemas (opens April 13 )


I AM going to put the fly in the ointment straight off and say that I really do not think Emma Watson – Harry Potter’s pal, Hermione – was the perfect choice to play Belle, the beauty in question in Disney’s 129-minute, live-action remake of the 1991 success, Beauty and the Beast.

She has some charm but is no great actress and here is often lacklustre and wishy-washy, while her singing – no doubt doctored to great lengths in the studio – is lethargic. It’s a no-brainer, in my view, that Anna Kendrick (Cinderella in Into the Woods and the star of the Pitch Perfect movies) should have been the Belle of this ball.

That said, there is a lot to impress and delight in this fresh, fun, glossy and often clever remake of the first and only animated film ever to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

The story of a nasty prince cursed to live as a menacing, horned beast in an enchanted castle, where his servants are turned into furniture and crockery, it’s both an unusual romance and a lesson in compassion, courage, commitment and the fact that beauty is more than skin deep.

I found the remake neither as overly camp nor as vibrant as the stage or animated versions, the songs sung with far less oomph and sense of enjoyment, but under the direction of Bill Condon, who wrote and directed the film version of Dreamgirls, this remains a lively romp.

Kevin Kline and Emma Watson, as father and daughter, in Beauty and the Beast.

Extra points to Condon, too, for fleshing out some characters and developing plot strands. Heck, we even get multiracial casting and … wait for it… a gay element – which, laughably, has caused some eyebrow-raising in the US, where the tut-tutters conveniently overlook the fact that this tale has a woman falling for an animal. LOL.

The movie also introduces some new songs which lend themselves to further plot development, including a new opening sequence that introduces the Beast (Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens) as a prince at a costume ball, where an enchantress – who pops up throughout the story – curses him for giving her the cold shoulder when she was in need.

Another new song accompanies book-worm Belle and her melancholy Beast on a magical flip through an enchanted book to the Paris of her childhood, where she uncovers the truth about her absent mother.

We also get a sequence that goes to great lengths to explain that the mean prince was the result of a troubled childhood.

The film is, for all these extra elements, mostly faithful to the original musical and boasts a wonderful supporting cast including Ewan McGregor as Lumiere the charming French candelabra, Ian McKellen as a stout and cantankerous clock, and Emma Thompson as chubby-faced teapot Mrs Potts (surprisingly, not as endearing as one might have hoped for).

We also get stage star Audra McDonald, who is delicious as a warbling wardrobe; Kevin Kline as Belle’s sweet father, and a dashing and impressive (if perhaps not comically conceited enough) Luke Evans as the vain, swaggering Gaston.

It is village hero Gaston who does all he can to woo Belle, with assistance from Le Fou, his dim-witted but doting sidekick, played by the scene-stealing but not nearly hilarious enough Josh Gad (the voice of the snowman in Frozen).

We also get Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette, a flying feather-duster, and Stanley Tucci as a harpsichord.

Great news is that the show’s title song, performed in a ballroom, as well as the showstopping Be Our Guest number, are superbly realised. The latter is particularly wonderful – with McGregor on lead vocals and a culinary cabaret going Busby Berkeley in its brilliance.

However, sadly, far less effective is the lively pub scene when Gaston gets boastful while villagers, Le Fou and Gaston himself sing the praises of the village bully-cum-hero. The Gaston song’s clever lyrics are often muffled, and for all the hustle and bustle there’s surprisingly little oomph.

All considered though, this is a handsome and enjoyable film – with superb art direction and costumes worth special mention. And the songs are as good as ever.

Most are sure to leave the cinema with a smile, and a song on their lips. Very few are likely to leave with a growl or grimace.

Seeking their humanity… a scene from Beauty and the Beast, a film with a cast including Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson and Audra McDonald.

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