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Film Reviews: McQueen — A fitting epitaph to a tortured soul

Out to shock:
Alexander
McQueen

THE BIG RELEASE

McQueen

(15) ★★★★✩

HE dressed everyone from Michelle Obama to David Bowie but Alexander McQueen was more than an A-list designer, he was an artist — a highly tormented one.

Five years after he committed suicide in 2010, a retrospective of his work, Savage Beauty, broke box-office records at London’s V&A. What drew those crowds wasn’t just McQueen’s outrageously brilliant outfits but the dark thread binding them to their creator. It’s that which McQueen the documentary, a piece of art in its own right, elegantly unpicks.

Lee Alexander McQueen was an oddity in the fashion world. A pudgy, toilet-humoured East Ender, he left school at 16 and ended up a tailor on Savile Row only because his mum saw something on TV about how they needed apprentices. His career rise was meteoric — he was creative director at Givenchy aged just 27 — but his style remained unique and it was out to shock.

Highland Rape, his infamous London Fashion Week debut, sent blood-spattered models down the catwalk. Another show featured Kate Moss (his one-time bridesmaid) dressed as a lunatic in an asylum. What lay behind all this wasn’t mere headline-grabbing, according to this documentary, but childhood abuse at the hands of a family member.

At the height of his fame, Lee (he was persuaded to rebrand himself ‘Alexander’ to sound more fashiony) was desperately lonely, snorting £600 of cocaine daily, and he killed himself, aged 40, on the eve of his mother’s funeral.

His is an engrossing rags-to-riches story, here reconstructed through new family interviews and intimate archive footage, topped off by a classy Michael Nyman score that imbues the flamboyance of McQueen’s vision.

There are a few omissions: there’s no mention of McQueen’s husband, George Forsyth, some veil-drawing over his sex life and only one passing reference to Sarah Burton, who now runs the label and made Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. But the film-makers deserve credit for creating a couture epitaph, not some ‘happily ever after’ branding video.

THE VERDICT

An elegant and engrossing examination of the late tormented fashion genius

The Boy Downstairs

(12A) ★★✩✩✩

IT’S not just the presence of Girls star Zosia Mamet (aka Shoshanna) that makes you feel you’ve seen this episodic indie romcom before. Like Lena Dunham in Girls, Carrie Bradshaw in Sex And The City and Greta Gerwig in pretty much everything she’s been in, our neurotic, 30ish-year-old heroine, Diana (Mamet), is a wannabe writer who moves to New York — the twist here being that Diana finds she’s living upstairs from her ex, Ben (Matthew Shear), who she dumped three years ago. Can they be just friends? Does she still have feelings for him? Do we care? Not much.

Cue gallons of artisan coffee, craft beer, relationship angsting and exhaustive taste-judging (one character stops mid-snog to demand: ‘Do you like Radiohead?’) The comedic situations are believable but banal — it makes you long for a script where the characters are unfeasibly equipped with zinging one-liners. There are definitely engaging moments (though they can feel like improv class scenes), mainly due to lovely natural chemistry from the leads. Amiable but non-essential viewing, The Boy Downstairs is the equivalent of spending an evening half-watching telly in your slippersocks.

All The Wild Horses

(15) ★★★✩✩

THIS sprightly documentary gallops alongside eight days of the world’s longest horse race, the gruelling 1,000km Mongolian Derby. Competitors include a US firefighter, an English lawyer, a South African horse trainer and an Irish jump jockey, global strangers all united by their passion for riding the legendary semi-wild Mongolian horses — ‘Genghis Khan’s weapon of choice’, we are told.

It’s a highly perilous event, despite the modern infrastructure of medics, rest stops and GPS tracking, with competitors’ lives threatened by dehydration, broken vertebrae, wolves etc. Still, as one race monitor cheerily tells us, ‘there’s only been one amputation so far!’

Awe-inspiring shots of the vast plains aside, All The Wild Horses is more like something you’d enjoy on the small screen. Exhilarating yet slight, it could do with a bit more backstory and context — like, what do the Mongolians make of these crazy foreigners?