One film journalist’s stream-of-consciousness cinematic journey through the pandemic, Part 77
By Laurence Lerman / New York City
And now it’s time for a nice little Academy Awards story that has nothing, nothing to do with “The Slap!”
At the 94th Academy Awards ceremony held on Sunday, March 25, the fiercely talented London-born costume designer Jenny Beavan won the Oscar for Best Costume Design for her work on the Disney 2021 comedy adventure Cruella, directed by Craig Gillespie.
With 11 Oscar nominations and now three Oscars to her credit (including her previous two for the 1985 Merchant Ivory production A Room with a View and 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road), Beavan officially enters the pantheon of honored and respected costuming greats.
Most notable among them: Milena Canonera (nine nominations and four wins for Barry Lyndon, Chariots of Fire, Marie Antoinette, The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Colleen Atwood (12 nominations and four wins for Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, Alice in Wonderland and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). No, Beavan and company are not yet in the orbit of the late Edith Head and her 35 noms and eight wins (for All About Eve, Roman Holiday and The Sting, among others), but who is?
Watching Jenny Beavan, a seasoned, hardworking professional, bring home the gold provided a few pleasant, smile-worthy minutes in a generally lackluster show. Thankfully, the Best Costume Design category wasn’t prerecorded and clumsily shoehorned into the broadcast like eight less-glittery categories were over the course of the evening!
The award was presented by the actress Lupita Nyong’o and veteran costume designer Ruth E. Carter (also an Oscar recipient for her work on 2018’s Black Panther) about a half-hour prior to The Slap.
Beavan, upon hearing her name victoriously announced, stepped onto the stage clad in a white tuxedo shirt and tricked out, peak-lapel jacket, and profusely thanked her costuming team, whom she described as “the most phenomenal, creative, clever, generous, amazing people.” She also gave earnest shout-outs to the film’s makeup and hair departments, quipping that “It would look a little sad putting on a Cruella costume with my hair.”
“The thing about Cruella,” she squeezed in just as she was being played off the stage by some canned music, “is that it does bring a bit of fun and joy during these terrible times.”
Cruella is, of course, based on the villainess Cruella de Vil from the Disney films 101 Dalmatians (both the live-action version from 1996 and the classic animated tale from 1961). It serves as an origin story prequel as it follows a young woman named Estella (Emma Stone) in 1970s London who dreams of becoming a fashion designer. Landing a job for the demanding and none-too-nice designer known as The Baroness (Emma Thompson), Estella takes on the persona of a designer known as “Cruella” and bursts forth with an outrageous sense of fashion, quickly becoming The Baroness’s arch rival.
And, wow, that fashion is all over the screen! Emma Stone’s Cruella wears 47 different costumes in the film, while Emma Thompson’s Baroness is garbed in 33 different outfits. There’s nary a single one on either of them that isn’t eye-catching or elegant or colorful or kaleidoscopic. Even the costuming for a few early sequences set in the grimy post-WWII London of the 1950s features a stylish raggedy-ness! Truly, Cruella’s costuming is as vitally communicative as the dialogue and storyline.
Beavan, whose other credits include the musical Swing Kids (1993) Oliver Stone’s epic Alexander (2004), the fantasy adventure The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018) and nearly a dozen other Merchant Ivory titles, has more glamour on the way: Still to come are a handful of projects she took on between Cruella and the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road sequel Furiosa, currently in preproduction.
Due on screens this summer is the fashion-loving drama Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, directed and co-written by Anthony Fabian and starring Lesley Manville and Isabelle Huppert. It concerns a widowed cleaning lady in 1950s London who falls madly in love with a couture Dior dress and heads off Paris to secure one for herself. And coming to theaters this fall is the World War II drama White Bird: A Wonder Story, directed by Marc Foster and starring Gillian Anderson and Helen Mirren, which tells the story of a young Jewish girl hidden by a boy and his family in Nazi-occupied France.
A number of other projects are also beckoning Beavan, who has let it be known in recent months that she is considering stepping away from costume designing. “I get more anxious as I get older and more experienced. I don’t find the job easier,” Beavan told the film industry trade magazine Deadline in December. “I find I get really anxious about whether I’m getting it right, and I’m not entirely sure I need to spend the last few years of my life being anxious.”
Offering that the next phase of her life could involve charity work or teaching or other areas that have “nothing to do with costume or theater or film,” Beavan has only positive feelings about her decades-long career and her many collaborators, even as she points out its difficulties.
“I’ve had the wonderful luck of working with the top directors and fabulous projects, but it’s not easy. It’s a very tough profession,” she said. “It’s fine when you’re younger and you can sort of bounce off things. But I don’t bounce as much now, both mentally and physically.”
The critically praised Cruella grossed approximately $250 million worldwide, was embraced on streaming platform Disney+, and prompted the development of a sequel—along with garnering Beavan an array of awards and a whole lot of fresh recognition. Here’s hoping she’s onboard for a sequel and what could be one helluva pièce de résistance.
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.