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Everyone’s watching

Cruella

Emma Thompson as Baroness von Hellman in Cruella

There are “101 reasons” to watch Cruella, says Dulcie Pearce in The Sun. But the two Emmas – Stone and Thompson – are top of my list. Stone’s “dalmatian-stealing fashionista”, Cruella de Vil, faces off against Thompson’s despicable designer, Baroness von Hellman, in a rivalry “so delicious I wished I could have another bite the moment they finished”. Throw in delightful dogs, all-action car chases and “one of the best soundtracks in modern film” – including David Bowie, the Doors and Blondie – and you’ve got a dastardly dark prequel kids and adults will adore.

It’s a far slicker attempt to reboot a villain than Disney’s Maleficent, says Clarisse Loughrey in The Independent. That poured buckets of tragedy over Sleeping Beauty’s wicked fairy. Here, “Cruella” is a nickname for Estella, an aspiring couturier who has suppressed her mean streak as a promise to her kindly (and soon very dead) mother. But Cruella was never good, just in denial, and the real her comes out eventually. Chiefly, though, this is a fashion film. Watching two formidable comic actors tear into each other “while dressed to the nines” proves to be the “most fashionable dogfight of the year”.

The only problem is, Stone “just doesn’t scare you”, says Kevin Maher in The Times. It’s Thompson’s high-heeled martinet who comes closest to channelling “the deranged diva persona” of Glenn Close’s Cruella from 1996. Aesthetically, Cruella is a spectacular hoot. But it’s a pity her terrifying legacy should end “with so little cruelty at all”.

Cruella is in cinemas and on Disney+. Watch the trailer here.

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Alec Guinness, right, as George Smiley. Alamy

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

The BBC’s 1979 adaptation of John le Carré’s Cold War spy thriller is now available on the iPlayer. With a “leisurely” running time of nearly five and a half hours over seven episodes, it’s certainly the most faithful adaptation, says Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times. Le Carré declared the beautifully bewildering, murky show the most successful adaptation of his work.

Alec Guinness’s George Smiley was “definitive”, says James Parker in The Atlantic. His spymaster “moved as if he were wearing three overcoats”. Clearly I was not the only one chained to the couch by the TV series, says Anthony Lane in The New Yorker. In the 2011 film version, Gary Oldman was tight and trim. But “Buddha-like” Guinness mastered an “opaque yet disarming sagacity”.

Not everyone was convinced. “The first instalment,” wrote Clive James in The Observer in 1979, “fully lived up to the standard set by the original novel. Though not quite as incomprehensible, it was equally turgid.” But even he changed his tune. “Anything can improve,” he wrote, “even Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, of which the latest episode was a good deal less wearisome than the previous three”. Working out whether you understood what was going on became a “national pastime”, says Paul MacInnes in The Guardian – “Larry Grayson even joked about it in the Generation Game”.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is on the BBC iPlayer.

“I never watch films made before 1975” 

Orson Welles in Citizen Kane, made in 1941. Moviestore/Shutterstock

A few months ago, Rick Rojas of The New York Times tweeted: “I broke a longstanding rule of mine to not watch movies made before 1975 so I could finally see Citizen Kane. It taught me a valuable lesson: these rules exist for a reason.” His disdain for the Orson Welles classic sparked a furious film-buff backlash, but concealed an important point, says Jonathan Dean in The Sunday Times. Can old films survive in an age of “cultural saturation”?

The modern film industry is designed to “endlessly flog the new”. A “staggering” 896 films were released in British cinemas in 2019, and nearly half as many last year, in the middle of a pandemic. Then there’s the endless hours of content on streaming sites, TV catch-up services, TikTok, YouTube – and even “good old reading”. Films made before one’s time are the first casualty of all this choice.

Not that we can be bothered to do much choosing. “Streamers operate by window-dressing their latest shiny offering”, so Netflix’s existentialist “space yawn” Stowaway is much easier to find than the infinitely better 2001: A Space Odyssey. That’s not to say we should do a reverse Rojas and only watch films made before 1975 – the medium is thriving. “You just need to know where to look.”