It is no secret that this live action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast has been a long-awaited film by Disney lovers and critics. As many Harry Potter fans, of course my friends and I flocked to the cinema to watch the film with one of my favourite actresses playing one of Disney’s beloved characters, Belle. Emma Watson was wonderful, refreshing and exciting. Her new take on Belle was both nostalgic and progressive.
Belle was an inventor, she was book smart and kind. She was well read and intelligent, she used her wit and moral compass to drive her intentions. Her head was screwed on right, miles ahead of the people in her small town, she knew she wanted more from life than what was expected of her by society. She refuses Gaston’s advances, showing bitter spite towards his marriage proposal, singing that she’d have to be his ‘little wife’ and in Emma’s soft but brilliant performance, you can see the power behind those words.
Belle was not a damsel and neither was she someone’s prize.
Gaston is a creepy man, someone who would forcefully marry a woman and keep her under lock and key, he desperately tries to win Belle’s affection and her father’s but is scorned and rightly so, for he proves how vindictive and cruel of a man he really is when he calls Belle’s father delusional, threatening to send him to an asylum. His friend, LeFou, is a far more likable, albeit corrupted character who in the end, comes to his senses and realises how much of an ass his friend is. What I also liked about him, is his eccentric ways, he is openly flamboyant and in the end, does what is right, siding with the antiques (who, by the way, were some of the best characters) of the Beast’s household against those on Gaston’s side.
He even has a cute moment with one of the musketeer’s. I would have loved to have seen more of that relationship, but nevertheless, it was a nice touch to the retelling of a princess story. Rather than conforming to the damsel in distress arch that is so often seen, along with oppressed sexuality and denied exploration, Beauty and the Beast attempts to dismantle these patriarchal norms. And though not utterly ground breaking, is a leap in the right direction.
As the tale moves on, it is clear that this telling of the fairy tale is not all roses and sunshine, Gaston is an architype for a potential rapist, while the Beast, though he finds redemption at the end, is a temperamental and aggressive man. A man who was twisted by his father’s words and ways after the death of his mother. A man who was cruel and harsh towards a woman, in need of help, who in turn, revealed herself to be an enchantress, who placed a curse upon him to live his days out as a Beast, until someone fell in love with him, and vice versa.
When Belle’s father is taken, she does not rely on another to save him, instead she fights her way to him and takes his place as the Beast’s prisoner. Here, she shows him that she is not to be messed with, fighting against his rules and arguments, she attempts to escape and is almost successful but is attacked by wolves (which she also valiantly tries to fight off). Though she tends to the Beast’s wounds, she still fights him at every corner, visiting the west wing, pushing against his dinner proposals and though they form a friendship, it is one out of circumstance.
Belle enjoys reading with the Beast and they become friendly with one another. While the Beast begins to see her in a new light, she is uncertain and conflicted, due to her lack of freedom. She openly tells him that she is not happy and she does not wish to live like this, for she will never be free. He understands the error of his ways and she leaves to save her father. It is in her freedom that she realises she does love the Beast, but not out of some misguided affection or fear, not out of a need to survive, but because she wants to.
It is also clear that if she wanted to leave beforehand, she very may well have. But she chose to stay. There was something human she saw in the Beast and when she saves him, she kisses him, feeling something in her chest, in her soul that told her, she was falling in love with him. She had fallen in love with the human inside the Beast and still felt the same about the man, the prince, he soon reveals himself to be.
Another thing I liked about the film was that there were actually actresses/ actors of colour in the ball scenes, as the antiques, and then brought back to their human form, in the village and not only that, were in interracial relationships. Belle’s friend and fellow book lover, is a priest in the village, Pere Robert, played by Ray Fearon, along with others of the townspeople who are not looked down upon because of the colour of their skin, as seen in many period pieces. Though this is a fantasy, it was nice to see this change in casting, rather than having little or no representation, there was, in a classical Disney film, which, let’s be honest, up until recent years, wasn’t something seen often. Plumette, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Madame Garderobe, played by Audra McDonald, were wonderful additions to the antiques of the household.
I would have liked to have seen more prominent characters of colour in bigger roles. Though, it was nice to see that not all the debutantes were white women, instead there were women of colour dancing too, rather than the entire village and castle inhabitants being stereotypically white.
In all, it was an enjoyable film that left me feeling happy and hopeful.