Lifetime's 2008 film "Coco Chanel" brings back the miniseries of the 1980s, many of which were based on novels by Judith Krantz or her ilk and starred people like Jane Seymour or Stefanie Powers. When the networks ran out of money and their viewerships dropped, they stopped making them.
Lifetime can't do the work of three networks, but it can occasionally bring us something like the entertaining "Coco Chanel" and a star like Shirley MacLaine in the lead as the older, reminiscing Chanel and Barbora Bobulova as the young Chanel. The fascinating queen of haute couture has been the subject of a Broadway show, a movie starring Audrey Tatou, and several other films, two of which are about her relationship with Igor Stravinsky.
The film does a good job of showing Chanel's poor background, love life, and rise to fame, including her beginnings as a hat maker, the introduction of Chanel No. 5, the Chanel suit, and the little black dress, but eliminates much of probably the most fascinating period of her life, World War II. During that time. she was arrested for war crimes but never tried due to the intervention of the Royal Family. I suppose that's a movie in itself.
Coco Chanel changed the way women dressed and also introduced a new philosophy of fashion - women should dress for themselves and not their men, and true fashion comes from the streets, or it isn't fashion. She also emphasized the use of accessories. She was a powerful woman from a humble background in a class-conscious society and depended upon alliances with the wealthy to get her where she needed to go.
In showing this, the movie does a very good job and could not have picked anyone better to play the icon than Shirley MacLaine, who does a fantastic job. One complaint I have is that, as much as I liked Barbora Bobulova, there wasn't enough of the older Chanel. MacLaine's performance really dominates the movie, even when she's not in a scene! I also liked her suggestion of an accent rather than a full-out French accent. The French accents weren't really necessary (though in a way they were, if the actor was French) because the characters weren't really speaking English with a French accent, they were speaking French. In that case, no accent is necessary. MacLaine gave Chanel more of a cosmopolitan accent.
All in all, a strong portrait of a fascinating woman.
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