Those who aren’t particularly au fait with the work of Cecil Beaton, the Oscar-winning set and costume designer behind My Fair Lady and Gigi, are likely to find plenty of little nuggets to mine from this attentive if airy documentary from Lisa Immordino Vreeland.
It opens with an exert from a TV interview that Beaton recorded in later life – born in 1904, he died in 1980. During the interview he’s asked how he would describe himself, to which he responds, “I wish I knew”. “It’s the visual that really guides me,” he goes on – a simple, yet effective illustration of his bold, idiosyncratic eye for imagery. Building on the highly acclaimed profiles she sketched of arts extraordinaire Peggy Guggenheim and fashion editor Diana Vreeland in previous works, Immordino Vreeland enthusiastically immerses us in Beaton’s world, interweaving interview footage of her subject with both personal pictures, and prints/photos of his most celebrated works from both magazine and film; all the while detailing his troubled relationship with his father and his time spent working for Vogue, through to his infatuation with Greta Garbo and later life spent adding to his wealth of work.
A use of personable diary entries written by Beaton himself, and narrated with a cordial sincerity by Rupert Everett, allow a certain degree of intimacy between audience and subject – the dialogue rich and evocative, packed with wry asides (describing Katherine Hepburn as a “dried-up old boot”) and heartfelt reflections. Yet Vreeland never finds the opportunity to delve deeper, unable to find a balance between the professional and the personal, and skimming over his life events in a conventionally biographical manner that Cecil himself would likely have considered to be fairly colourless. It’ll suit those seeking a snapshot of Beaton’s career, but anyone after something a little more substantial is likely to be left wanting more.