The Lifetime mini-series Coco Chanel, starring Shirley MacLaine, is an entertaining look at the designer's multi-faceted life.
Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel's life has become a great deal more familiar to many of us this year after the release of two independent biopics on the fashion queen. To this pair can now be added a third examination, filmed as a three-hour mini-series and screened last year by the US television network Lifetime. Chanel's was a multifaceted life that lends itself well to film. After the death of her mother when she was 12, she and her sister were deserted by their father and sent to a French orphanage, destitute, for their formative years. Aged 18, Coco left to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. This version of her story is split between a reflective, elderly Chanel, played with great spike by Shirley MacLaine, and the younger model, played more gently by a Slovak actress, Barbora Bobulová. The action mostly focuses on her early professional years, when Chanel started out as a milliner in Paris with the support of two successive partners - first a French playboy, Étienne Balsan, and then his best friend, Arthur "Boy" Capel. The director Christian Duguay balances her fashion ascendancy against a backdrop of moving disappointments in love. There are a few overindulgent Mills & Boon scenes, but they demonstrate why we see Chanel professionally consumed but unmarried and childless later in life. It's a solid watch that may leave Chanel experts raging at the exclusion of her reputed affair with a Nazi soldier and scant detail of her later professional life, but it's entertaining enough as TV mini-series go.