Cruella | 2021
Disney's origins story has a bit of a problem balancing the young lovable rebel with the irredeemably nasty older character, but winning performances, superb Seventies design and all those little nods to the original 101 Dalmatians win the day.
For the prologue of Estella's early years, the lovely home from which she's taken out in her pram, is 3 Red Lion Cottages, a few doors away from The Red Lion public house on Highmore Cottages in the village of Little Missenden, west of Amersham in Buckinghamshire.
After leaving school, Estella sets off for London with her mum. On the way they stop for a bit of unexplained business at 'Hellman Hall', home of the Baroness (Emma Thompson) where there’s a catastrophic event that changes Estella’s life.
Although Englefield was built in the 16th century, there were substantial alterations in the 1820s.
Englefield House has been the filming location for a number of movies, including X-Men: First Class (as Charles Xavier’s ‘Westchester’ home), The King’s Speech (as the interior of ‘Buckingham Palace’), Woody Allen’s dark thriller Match Point (as the estate of the Hewett family), Great Expectations and Easy Virtue.
The garden, but not the house, are open to the public.
Even if you get to tour the house, don’t expect to see the vast ballroom. This was an elaborate set built at Shepperton Studios, Surrey.
The truck, in which Estella hitches a ride on her lone journey to London, takes the cinematically compulsory but highly unlikely route across Tower Bridge and past the Victoria Monument standing in front of Buckingham Palace.
Her destination is the fountain in Regents Park, North London, but that’s definitely not what we see on-screen.
This fountain stands in the centre of Naval College Gardens, part of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, SE10, to the southeast. The buildings you can see in the background are the college itself.
The complex, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was built as the Royal Hospital for Seamen, a home for naval veterans, on the site of the old Greenwich Palace, where both King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I were born.
Greenwich, on the Thames, is famed for its maritime history and the site went on to become the Royal Naval College, used until 1998 when the navy moved out. It’s now mixed use – part historic monument, part university.
Its spacious grounds and spectacular Painted Hall (a feature not seen in Cruella) have been seen in countless productions, including Les Misérables, The Madness Of King George, Four Weddings And A Funeral, Thor: The Dark World, The Dark Knight Rises, Fast And Furious: Hobbs & Shaw, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The Mummy Returns, The Duchess, The Young Victoria, Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Music Lovers and The Bounty.
There’ll be more of the campus later.
It’s by the fountain that Estella teams up with two street kids who give her a place to live and a crash course in petty thieving.
When they're chased out of the park by a policeman, that's not the grand entrance to the Old Naval College – but it's still not 'Regent's Park' either. It's a more modest entrance to Greenwich Park on Crooms Hill, just a little south of Greenwich Theatre.
The kids run across Crooms Hill and into Gloucester Circus where they dive into the open gate.
The old lamplit passageway looking like an exquisite period film set, where they ingeniously get Wink the Dog to open a door for them, is Pickering Place on St James’s Street, just south of Piccadilly, in the heart of St James’s, SW1.
A brass plaque records that the little office they rob, now Berry Bros & Rudd wine merchants, was the Texas Legation (embassy) in the 1840s.
The posh ‘hotel’, from which the trio exit with their ill-gotten gains, is the 1930s deco Adelphi Building, on John Adam Street off The Strand. This, too, we’ll be seeing again later.
The famous store on Great Marlborough Street at Regent Street was built in 1924, its mock-Tudor frontage incorporating timbers from HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan.
For its time, Liberty was arty and cutting-edge, associated with Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts styles. Famous for spotting young designers at the start of their careers, that’s its role in Estella’s story.
It’s clearly the real frontage we see on-screen but the interior was a meticulous recreation built at Shepperton Studio. And I mean meticulous, down to the drawers being stocked with period headed notepaper.
The rear of the store, where Horace and Jasper bring Estella lunch and where she gets locked out, is on Little Marlborough Street at Kingly Street and remains pretty much as its seen.
Estella’s proto-punk sensibility is recognised by the Baroness and lands her a coveted design job at the ‘House of Baroness’. The company’s huge workshop to which she’s taken is another superbly designed set at Shepperton Studio.
The exterior, supposedly ‘121 Fournier Street, SW1’, is 10 Carlton House Terrace, once home to Prime Minister William Gladstone and now housing the British Academy.
It was previously seen on screen in two Henry James adaptations The Wings of the Dove (1997) and The Golden Bowl (2000).
It stands in the elegantly exclusive area between Pall Mall and the Mall, both named (confusingly for tourists) after Pell Mell, a croquet-like game once played here. A couple more scenes were filmed in the area.
For instance, the Baroness’s home, where Estella attempts a daring robbery to retrieve her mother’s pendant during the ‘Black and White Ball’, is not far away at2 Carlton Gardens. This was once home to Lord Kitchener (now largely remembered from the World War I recruiting poster "Your country needs YOU", with that sternly pointing finger) and to Section Y, the arm of the British secret service responsible for monitoring the old Soviet Union during the Cold War.
This is another one of those familiar screen moments when a modestly-sized house turns out to contain an enormous ballroom.
The ballroom is not a studio set this time, but that of Halton House, Halton near Wendover in Buckinghamshire. The house was built in the 1880s for the Rothschild family and, oddly, went on to become the – very upmarket – officers’ mess for RAF Halton, one of the largest Royal Air Force stations in the UK.
No stranger to the screen itself, Halton has been seen in The World Is Not Enough; The King’s Speech; The Queen; Evita; An Ideal Husband; Bride & Prejudice and Flyboys. It’s also seen in TV series Downtown Abbey and Bridgerton. Unsurprisingly, as an airforce base, it's not open to the public.
During the chaos, the pendant was swallowed by one of the Baroness’s dalmatians, leaving Estella with only one option to retrieve it – kidnap all three of the identical dogs.
There’s an opportunity at ‘Roscoe’s Grooming Salon’, which is is 8 Duke’s Road, WC1, off Woburn Walk, a little area of beautiful unaltered Georgian shopfronts, in Bloomsbury, south of Euston Road across from the famous rail terminus.
The production was economical with its use of locations. Yes, there’s to be more of Duke’s Road too, but in a very different context later.
Estella unexpectedly discovers a kindred spirit and ally in Artie (John McCrea) when she spots one of the Baroness’s creations in the window of his second-hand clothes shop on Portobello Road, home of the famous street market in Notting Hill, West London.
Artie’s ‘Second Time Around’ store is Three Four Five, once an antiques shop now reborn as a vegetarian restaurant, at 345 Portobello Road, the very northern end of the road, past most of the street stalls.
Planning revenge on the Baroness, Estella recruits more help. Unrecognisable as Cruella, she approaches her old schoolfriend Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) who’s now a journalist working for ‘Tattletale’, to provide media coverage for a series of stunts she’s planning.
Anita’s office is Portland House, Aldermaston Park near Reading, Berkshire.
This was built in the 1980s as headquarters for Blue Circle Industries cement empire and, gosh!, it won an award in 1986 from The Concrete Society. It was previously used as the CIA’s “Langley’ hub in Jason Bourne.
Cruella goes on to stage a series of outrageously attention-grabbing stunts contrived to upstage the Baroness at every opportunity.
She launches her ‘Future’ brand with a flood of eye-catching projections at the Baroness’s open-air gala, which is back at the Old Royal Naval College, just across from the ‘Regent’s Park’ fountain location.
Remaining on the college campus, the red-carpet event, at which the Baroness gets locked in her car as Cruella triumphantly stomps over it, is on College Way in front of the University Café.
As the Baroness poses for press photos at another glitzy bash, Cruella appears in a rubbish truck and makes a fabulously extravagant exit trailing that extraordinary “trash gown”. This is the pillared entrance to the Athenaeum Club, on the corner of Waterloo Place and Pall Mall, just across from the exterior of the workshop on Carlton House Terrace.
Dating from 1824 the Athenaeum, with its gilt statue of Athena and a classical frieze based on the Parthenon, had the reputation of being one of the more staid of London clubs, numbering many pillars of the establishment among its membership.
As such, its infrequent screen appearances usually see it as the centre of mysterious high-level conspiracies in the likes of Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man!, Defence of the Realm and Who Dares Wins, although it did also provide interiors for 1997 biopic Wilde, with Stephen Fry as the great writer.
Beginning to divine something iffy about Estella, the Baroness takes her to a gorgeous art deco restaurant for a champagne lunch where she gives her a lecture, or a warning, about “not caring”. The restaurant is Smith & Wollensky, the first branch of the US steakhouse to open outside the USA. It’s housed in the Adelphi Building on John Adam Street, which we saw earlier as hotel they robbed by Estella and her pals.
As Cruella plans her revenge on the Baroness, the Baroness plans an even more dire fate for Cruella.
She burns down the abandoned block where Estella has been living, leaving everyone to assume she died in the fire, while framing Jasper and Horace for the crime.
In fact, Estella is rescued at the last minute by John (Mark Strong), the Baroness’s strangely sympathetic valet. He spirits her away to his well-appointed home at 9 Stone Buildings, an offshoot from Lincoln’s Inn, a quiet, olde-worlde enclave for the legal profession.
When Cruella hears John’s shocking revelation and races off on a stolen bike, you can see Lincoln’s Inn Chapel and its famous Undercroft in the background.
She roars off south across Waterloo Bridge (you can see the Brutalist silhouette of the Royal National Theatre on the South Bank). This is a bit odd, since she’s supposed to be heading north to ‘Regents Park’. It’s by the Naval College Fountain again, way down southeast, that she sits down to digest the terrible truth.
Horace and Jasper, arrested for the supposed murder of Cruella, find themselves unexpectedly sprung from their cell after Cruella herself uses a hijacked truck to ram the police station entrance.
The ‘cop station’ is Easthampstead House, a temporarily-closed council office in Bracknell, Berkshire, which was conveniently up for a bit of – um – remodelling and has since been repurposed as Easthampstead Works, Town Square, office and studio space.
The ensuing chase hurtles through Shad Thames, the area of renovated old warehouses on the South Bank of the Thames east of Tower Bridge. It’s geographically nonsensical of course but it’s a traffic-free and a wonderfully photogenic spot to stage the climactic pile-up of cars on side alley Lafone Street.
Back at John's house, Cruella has a heart-to-heart with Jasper on the balcony, where she vows revenge on the Baroness while promising not to kill her.
Up here, you might notice that the architecture of Stone Buildings has changed a little. That's because this balcony is above the dog grooming location back on Duke’s Road.
When they look down onto Duke’s Road to see Horace arrive in the DeVil car, notice that the building you see directly opposite is Grafton Mansions. Horror fans might recognise this as the home of Alex (David Ladd) in notorious 1972 shocker Death Line (aka Raw Meat).
Cruella finally completes her revenge, without actually killing the Baroness, at ‘Hellman Hall’. Although the main ballroom is the studio set, the Baroness's private room, where she tries out a taser on her hapless staff, is the Blue Drawing Room at West Wycombe House, West Wycombe Park.
A National Trust property near High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, the estate is seen as the ‘Russian’ military retreat in X-Men: First Class, a 'Russian' estate in Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers, and as Madam M's 'Russian' mansion in Fast And Furious: Hobbs & Shaw. It's not always 'Russian' – it's an ‘Irish’ estate is Clint Eastwood’s White Hunter, Black Heart.
Incidentally, the West Wycombe estate was the seat of the Dashwood family – and home of Sir Francis Dashwood, founder of the real Hellfire Club.
there’s a little postscript setting up the 101 Dalmatians story.
When Roger (Kayvan Novak) is seen at the piano composing the ‘Cruella De Vil’ song and the camera retreats through the window we see that his flat is – yes – the upper floor of Grafton Mansions on Duke’s Road.
Cruella really does deserve some kind of award for the most economic use of real locations.