This glossy doc about Cecil Beaton plumbs the shallows of the famous stylist, royal photographer, and self-professed Edwardian dandy. His fairytale-inspired looks dazzled for decades in magazines and Hollywood movies (he won three Oscars, including one for his costume design on ‘My Fair Lady’) and there’s plenty of archive material basking in his astonishing creativity across many mediums. But for a man so singular, the film’s chronological approach feels conventional and there’s little of the spark or fantasy he infused into his work in evidence.
Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland has talking heads from across the world of fashion to share their memories of the man – including fellow snapper David Bailey, designer Manolo Blahnik and artist David Hockney – but it’s her own husband’s grandmother, Diana Vreeland, who provides the most telling quote. ‘He’s got a great deal of the outrageous in him,’ she says of Beaton, her old ‘Vogue’ colleague. Sure enough, we see him upsetting America with throwaway lines about the beauty of its women, creating an anti-Semitism storm with a misjudged photoshoot and falling out with ‘My Fair Lady’ director George Cukor. But was this love of the outrageous a puckish conceit for such a natural self-promoter or more deep rooted? We’re never really sure. Little light is shone on his feud-forming nature, either.
Catnip for some fashion and photography aficionados, Beaton’s boundless creativity is celebrated ad infinitum, but as a biography of the man there’s little to satisfy the unconverted. Famously catty, he might have had something to say about Rupert Everett’s seriously grating voiceover, too.