Ever since Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve first penned her fairy tale romance in 1740, this tale as old as time has been abridged, adapted and revamped countless times. From Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s heavily edited version of Villeneuve’s 100-page novella to Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bête that brought the fairy tale to the silver screen – the unconventional love story about a beautiful woman and hideous beast is one we all know. Now, Bill Condon – inspired by the classic Disney animation – brings the tale to the screen once more, singing candlesticks and all.
No one thought the highly ambitious live-action version would stand up to 1991’s beloved fairy tale adaptation (that earned Disney its first Best Picture Academy Award nomination for an animated feature) but no one expected Disney to pull off this daring trick quite so well.
Emma Watson – who stars as the intelligent, independent Belle – has received almost universal acclaim for her take on the courageous heroine. Bringing her own feminist touch to the character, Belle doesn’t wear a corset (revolutionary for 18th Century French women), invents a special laundry machine so she can read whilst washing her clothes and doesn’t allow herself to be intimidated by the Beast’s initial monstrous behaviour. Her singing voice is extremely impressive too.
Contradictory to Belle is her dashing suitor Gaston (Luke Evans) who values beauty over brains and arrogance over bravery. Evans never falters in his rich and varied portrayal of Gaston as his oddly charming vanity slowly gives way to a murderous monster. Forever at his side is his long-suffering friend, LeFou (a wonderful Josh Gad). Gaston’s increasingly violent actions begin to take their toll on LeFou and we see a sympathetic man torn between his loyalties and conscience.
When it comes to the mansion’s iconic antiques the voice actors – most notably Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen and Audra McDonald – breathe life, charisma and soul into the inanimate objects. Yet it is Dan Stevens who arguably delivers the film’s greatest performance as the infamous beast. Merging humour with pathos and cruelty with tenderness, he struggles to ask Belle to dinner without sounding threatening and scoffs at her when she tells him her favourite Shakespeare play is Romeo and Juliet. Chemistry oozes between the pair as they discover how alike they really are (Belle is an outsider in her own village) and the sweet exchanges between the two as they start to fall in love should vanquish any Stockholm Syndrome claims.
From the spectacular rendition of Be Our Guest to the epic final battle, Beauty and the Beast is a fantastically entertaining, achingly romantic spectacle that is worthy of a place alongside the original Disney classic.