On the evening of Friday 8th February, a small but happy group of us met up at the Leeds Grand to relax and indulge our inner child in front of the much-loved film, Beauty and the Beast…or so I thought!
Joking aside, we were attending a screening of the original 1946 film, adapted from the original fairy tale – and directed by – Jean Cocteau. Lead actors included Jean Marais (the “Brad Pitt of his time”, we were reliably informed by Dr Claire Lozier of the University of Leeds’ French Department) and Josette Day.
Dr Lozier gave a very informative and interesting background to the film, putting it in context against post-war austerity France. She highlighted the conditions of the time, remarking on such basic needs as white bed linen that wasn’t patched, or sourcing matching curtains – and how they were stolen from the set on one occasion. Once the film got underway, I had to admit that I agreed with her comments on the film: that despite these difficulties, the film didn’t look like it was made in a time when such basic things that we take for granted were in such short supply and such high demand.
Claire also discussed how the special effects were “cutting-edge” for the time and I agreed with her about the effectiveness of the Beast’s fur, especially when combined with other quirky touches, such as moving heads in the supposedly solid stone busts and mantelpieces, the enchanted doors and the candelabra brackets which were human arms and lit up magically.
The acting, of course, looked very dated compared with what we’re used to: as Claire outlined, there was something of the older, melodramatic theatre-acting style about it in places, such as the Beast roaming the castle corridors in a pained trance.
So after an “apéro” in the theatre bar and the interesting talk by Dr Lozier, the lights dimmed…it was show time. The film itself was very well shot – okay, it may not be a match for modern hits like Les Misérables or the CGI wonders of Avatar or The Hobbit, but for its day, it was beautifully filmed and staged. Set in the 18th century, it tells the story of a girl, Belle, who must go to the Beast to die in her father’s place, after the Beast gives her father lodgings for the night when lost in the forest. He inadvertently forfeits Belle when he picks her a rose from the Beast’s garden. Belle’s family had fallen from grace when her father’s ships were lost as sea; while Belle is gentle and kind though, her sisters heap scorn on her and their father, and her brother is a layabout, yet they become jealous at the way she is treated by the ‘repulsive’ beast. At the risk of spoiling it for those who have not yet seen it, I have probably said too much already so shall stop here!
Vive le cinéma français!