The making of a French fashion icon

Film<strong><br />COCO BEFORE CHANEL</strong><br />Cert: 12A<br /><br />SOME bad PR about Gabrielle, aka Coco, Chanel emerged on the release of this film, namely that she was anti-Semitic and homophobic (traits she pre shared with her Nazi live-in lover during the Occupation of Paris). Audrey Tautou herself, who plays Chanel, prattled on about it in interviews. But when did dubious wartime ethics ever interfere with fashion and the story of an enigmatic woman?<br /><br />Coco before Chanel focuses on the period before the fashion line when Coco worked as a provincial seamstress by day and a cabaret singer by night, performing alongside her sister. Odd for a woman so taciturn, but it was the frilly dancing and singing that she wanted to devote her life to. It&rsquo;s only when that career fails and she moves in with a millionaire as his mistress that her eye for style comes to the fore &ndash; she is made a kind of in-house stylist for his aristocratic friends, eventually setting her heart on making it rich as a designer, free from the purse strings of any man.<br /><br />This film is all about the rivetting Audrey Tautou and her pout &ndash; and her shapeless dowdy dresses, only because they exaggerate the point that anything, including a bin liner, would look good on her. But the film masterfully portrays Chanel&rsquo;s pioneering eye for making women look comfortable and sophisticated through a &ldquo;less is more&rdquo; approach.&nbsp; It&rsquo;s an absorbing, candy-floss sweet look at one of fashion&rsquo;s most seductive figures.<br /><br /><strong>THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123</strong><br />Cert: 15<br /><br />IN this remake of the classic 70s thriller, John Travolta is the whack-job villain who hijacks a New York subway train, while Denzel Washington plays the subway control-centre bod unlucky enough to be dealing with him.<br /><br />Director Tony Scott piles on energetic visuals, while Travolta turns the ham-level up to 11. But it never really solves the problem of dealing with what&rsquo;s essentially an inert situation, and there&rsquo;s little in the way of tension or fun. The gritty, edgy original is superior in every way, but this will just about do for a rainy Friday night.<br /><br />Theatre<strong><br />A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE</strong><strong><br /></strong>Donmar Warehouse<br /><br />TENNESSEE WILLIAMS&rsquo;S surging melodrama, set in New Orleans in 1949, is almost too grandiose a play for the intimate space of the Donmar Warehouse. It may be set in a rundown apartment of only two rooms, but it&rsquo;s a three-hour epic of operatic passions and wrought emotions that risks getting stifled in the Donmar&rsquo;s cosy confines &ndash; for a play this histrionic, one can almost be too close to the action.<br /><br />There&rsquo;s also a slight leap of faith required in casting Rachel Weisz as Blanche Dubois, not that it&rsquo;s Weisz&rsquo;s fault &ndash; at 38, she&rsquo;s the right age, but looks 10 years younger and seems anything but a woman past her prime. Blanche&rsquo;s protestations about losing her beauty produced the odd splutter from certain corners of the audience.<br /><br />That aside, Weisz gives a forceful, silky performance as the fading Southern belle reduced to sharing dingy digs with her sister Stella (Ruth Wilson) and Stella&rsquo;s husband Stanley Kowalski, played with stinging muscularity by Elliot Cowan. The impending collision of Blanche, the pretentious fantasist convinced of her cultured superiority and Stanley, the working-class hulk who&rsquo;s both wilier and more savage than even his wife gives him credit for, is engineered by Williams like two planets smashing together in slow-motion, and Weisz and Cowan rise to the occasion. The pale, wounded emotion Weisz summons merely in her facial expressions as Blanche cracks into insanity is something to behold.<br /><br />Christopher Oram&rsquo;s set beautifully conjures both the claustrophobic heat and dilapidated majesty of New Orleans &ndash; even the theatre&rsquo;s balconies have been decked in ironwork as elaborate as Williams&rsquo; sensational dialogue. This can be a long three hours in a small theatre, but it&rsquo;s still an absorbing, layered production of one of the greatest plays ever written, and anchored by performances that sizzle like a storm in the Deep South.