When it comes to lavish dramas in historical French settings, I’m easy to please. I have to reserve special praise though for Chéri, which I had the pleasure to indulge in at the British Film Institute last Thursday. This masterful adaptation of Colette’s Belle Époque novel sees the reunion of Dangerous Liaisons director-writer duo Stephen Frears and Christopher Hampton.
With the same skill they applied to Laclos’ tale of sex, love and deception, they draw out the best moments of badinage, tension and tenderness from Colette’s rich text. They magic the world of Chéri on to the big screen – the sumptuous art nouveau world of Paris before the First World War where ageing courtesan Léa (Michelle Pfeiffer) falls for Chéri (Rupert Friend), the 19-year old son of another courtesan.
The froth and frills Consolata Boyle’s set and costumes captivate but it is Pfieffer’s subtle portrayal of a beautiful woman who knows age is catching her up that makes this film so utterly charming.
I was equally charmed by Frears himself. His wit shone in the talk he gave after the show at the BFI on Thursday. No artistic bullshit for him. Asked, for example, why Colette was less frequently adapted than Jane Austen, he quipped: “Because she wrote in French.”
Well, good job that didn’t put him off. The Frears/Hampton/Pfeiffer team have become expert adaptors of French novels. Here’s hoping they try their hand at Balzac next.