The first we got to see in autumn last year were some celebrities' names and this crimson rose in a frosted dome (reminiscent of both B&tB and The Snow Queen); details that already got me excited and waiting for springtime. And it has truly felt like a long awaited springtime after an endless winter, to borrow a metaphor from the film itself!
The all-star cast: Already when it was revealed in autumn last year, it filled me with elation upon seeing a roster full of stars of both the 1990s and the present day, most of which I knew from other films and even from Shakespeare, recreating the tale as old as time. To quote the most relevant, and the ones that made me squee the most and wait the most for springtime, here are they:
- Emma Watson --Hermione Granger-- as Belle
- Dan Stevens --Matthew Crawley-- as the Master (Beast/Prince)
- Luke Evans --Dracula-- as Gaston
- Joshua Gad --Olaf, the happy snowman-- as Lefou
- Kevin Kline --the young man in A Fish Called Wanda, Nick Bottom, Captain Phoebus-- as Maurice (Papa)
- Sir Ewan McGregor --Obi-Wan Kenobi, Christian James, Iago-- as Lumière
- Sir Ian McKellen --Henry V, Iago, Gandalf-- as Henry Cogsworth
- Dame Emma Thompson --Beatrice, Sybil Trelawney, Nanny McPhee, Captain Amelia Smollett-- as Beatrice Potts
Seeing those scenes come alive
The old rose-seller revealing herself as a fairy, turning the prince into a beast and the courtiers into objects. Belle walking past the chickens and getting dissed by the other villagers. Belle taking her leave of her papa. The Beast capturing Maurice after he's picked that rose. Belle returning Romeo and Juliet to the priest (instead of Jack and the Beanstalk to the librarian!). Belle giving Gaston the axe. The triplets fawning over Gaston. Chip blowing bubbles for Belle. The Master and Belle at first mistrusting one another. Mme. de Garderobe decking Belle in uncomfortable court dress. Belle befriending Lumière, and the extravagant feast for both the lips and the eyes that he prepares for her. The Master saving a runaway Belle from a pack of wolves. Belle nursing the Master back to health. Belle and the Master enjoying the wintry garden, the library, finding a common interest in literature as a springboard for the fact that there's something there. The snowball fight in the royal gardens, Belle discarding her spoon and drinking soup from the plate like her beau. That dance, both lovers getting prepared for the ballroom; her golden gown and his cobalt blue overcoat. Gaston in scarlet mess uniform drowning his sorrows in the tavern and Lefou bragging about his accomplishments to all the others. Belle scrying into the mirror to find her papa in distress. The Master letting Belle go and regretting it, feeling as if she would betray him. Belle and Maurice locked in the Maison des Lunes carriage and finally escaping. The storming of the castle. Mme. de Garderobe singing her solo as she throws herself down a ledge. Gaston treacherously striking the Master down in the back, and then falling to his death from a parapet. The Master dying in Belle's arms, suddenly disenchanted, as well as all the objects... and that final dance that crowns it all. Seeing all of these scenes take place in live action is astounding, and besides it has also awakened old memories within me...
Winter in the palace grounds
The fairy's spell, aside from enchanting the prince and courtiers, trapped the palace grounds in an endless winter (mirroring the Master's icy heart), while the seasons change in the outside world. This lends the gardens and windows a magical air as well as frosting the rose dome (as seen in this review's title card): each time a petal falls, the frost advances, the château crumbles, and the courtiers-turned-objects become a little more rigid. Springtime does not come until Belle's tears of true love bring on the disenchantment... and it's a truly magical scene, seeing the courtiers change back and make peace with the villagers as the thaw and the warmth finally arrive!
The setting: Villeneuve and the Château de la Bête come alive
Both the quaint village and the magnificent baroque castle/palace we have come to associate with the tale feel like real places. The wintry royal gardens, the well-assorted library, the washer where the village women gather to wash their clothes and gossip, the all-male local school (Belle is chided for teaching a washergirl literacy!), Belle's cozy workshop home in Villeneuve and her lovely bedchamber with a canopy bed... the dragons that flank the entrance staircase... it all feels so lifelike that we are as shuttled into this eighteenth-century world of the French Enlightenment as Belle is to her birthplace of Montmartre using the magic portal book!
The period costumes --for courtiers and villagers, men and women, adults and children alike-- are extremely detailed and add even more excitement and aesthetic pleasure to the immersive eighteenth-century experience that is watching this film!!
Gaston the officer (and General Cogsworth!)
Of course, what would a good early modern period piece be without some men in uniform? Specifically (influenced certainly by the lieutenant who led the hunt for the Bête de Gévaudan!), Gaston is stated to be a military officer with the rank of captain and Lefou under his command during both wartime and peacetime, most surely as his orderly (officer's personal valet). The queued macho, implied to have deflowered women during wartime, gets to wear both his field and mess uniform (the former a café au lait brown with scarlet facings, the latter his trademark scarlet brocade coat!) during the course of the film. Luke Evans implies that his character is suffering from PTSD and putting off a miles gloriosus façade before the villagers to conceal all he has suffered during the wars he has fought in.
Besides, Cogsworth in object form is a table clock decked with military accoutrements like swords and cannons, and, during the storming of the castle, he acts like a real strategist. When his human form post-disenchantment was revealed, it was (as I suspected) an aged general, with an epauletted coat rife with medals and a monocle on his left eye, wearing a kaiser moustache that looks like the hands of his clock form. Just imagine Sir Ian McKellen in a period uniform, with a kaiser moustache. The sole appearance of this human Cogsworth reminded me of his Iago in Trevor Nunn's Othello, but as a general instead of a non-commissioned officer! So, is this some kind of wish fulfillment? (For another Shakespearean actor allusion, aside from the equivalent one relating to Mrs. Potts, scroll all the way down to the bottom of this review!)
Lefou (and Stanley) out of the closet
I always had a pair of hunches about Lefou. This version certainly confirms them. That he's illiterate, but especially that he's gay and hangs around Gaston due to a feeling stronger than admiration or even bromance. The pudgy boy henchman in this live action film flaunts Gaston in a queer tone during the tavern song, and he most often wears his shoulder-long hair loose instead of tied up in a queue. The fact that both of them met in the military, and Lefou was most likely to be the manly man Gaston's orderly, is the perfect springboard for such feelings. Too bad his beloved commanding officer is straight (aside from a total coward and a scoundrel). During the storming of the Château de la Bête, Mrs. Potts told him "you're too good for him" for a good reason; as soprano Mme. de Garderobe attacked a trio of young villagers by wrapping them in court ladies' wigs and petticoats. While two of them were frightened upon seeing their reflections in de Garderobe's mirror, the third one, in pink, squeals in delight.
Right after the disenchantment, right after his commanding officer had plummeted to his death from that shattered parapet, during the ball, Lefou ditches his female partner and takes Stanley --the man who had liked wearing pink petticoats-- out to dance; these two were literally made for each other, and one of them needed (may I make a visual pun) coming out of the closet for this romance to blossom! Definitely, yet another gay OTP right when I expected it the least! SQUEEEE!!!
What ever happened to their missing loved ones? The live action film confirms:
Belle's maman (mum): Died of the plague in Montmartre, when Belle was but months old. That's why she cannot remember (It took a trip to Paris with a magic book in the Château library to find out).
The royal couple (the prince's parents): the Queen died of the same plague that took Belle's mum, while her crowned husband forced the heartbroken boy prince to grow up (Frederick-William-style parenting implied).
Mr. Potts: unlike the other missing parents above, he is alive and well, living in Villeneuve all along until the court and village make peace in the end and his wife and child are disenchanted. There is also a Mrs. Cogsworth: that unpleasant Breton shrew that made her uniformed husband wish he were a clock once more!
Beauty and the Bard
This Belle is not only passionate about literature: she's an outright bardolater, her favourite play being Romeo and Juliet. She also quotes sonnets in the wintry palace gardens. The Beast is revealed to share a favourite author with her, even making a little pun about the fact that some of the library books are in Greek (referencing "it's all Greek to me!").
First names revealed (and more Shakespearean Easter eggs!)
When reunited with their estranged spouses, the châtelaine is revealed to be named Beatrice Potts, while the general's full name is Henry Cogsworth. And I just squeed like Belle when first entering the palace library: I recognized actor allusions to Emma Thompson's famous role in Much Ado about Nothing and a young Ian McKellen having played the title role in Henry V (another story with military men and royals set in France) once or twice in his younger years!
This may have something to do with the fact that this film was shot in the UK in 2016 and many of the leading cast (not only Obi-Ewan, Kline, McKellen, and Emma Thompson, but those who played the leading characters' deceased parents as well) are thespians with a Shakespearean background...