Being Coco

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 May, 2009, 12:00am

Audrey Tautou is not the first actor to play Coco Chanel: her turn in Coco Before Chanel is only the latest attempt to conjure the spirit of the high priestess of haute couture - and she's not the last either ...

Katherine Hepburn in Coco (1969)

The Hollywood star is possibly the only actor to have met with Chanel before playing her. In her only Broadway musical, Hepburn played the designer during the times when she struggled with aggressive criticism of her work in the mid-1950s, before deals with a string of American department stores salvaged her career and reputation. Hepburn's performance - she allegedly peppered her lines with profanity - shocked many; reports were that the designer never watched the show.

Marie-France Pisier in Chanel Solitaire (1981)

With this British-French production solely dedicated to Chanel's early, formative years, Marie-France Pisier's turn as a budding milliner is further curtailed by the filmmakers' decision to steer clear of focusing on Chanel beyond her youth. 'The Coco Chanel of this movie is seldom a woman whose life has the stature of legend. More often than not, she seems an erratic, often charming, largely uncommunicative tomboy with a great talent for making hats,' read a review in The New York Times.

Shirley MacLaine in Coco Chanel (2008)

What's most startling about Shirley MacLaine's (below) turn as Chanel in this American television movie is how she sounds like, well, Shirley MacLaine. No one bothered to ask the actor to even feign an accent here; it's jarring to hear Chanel talking, in the grandeur of 1950s Paris, like a pensioner from Virginia. Fortunately, MacLaine's not on screen all the time - while the film's top-billed star, the narrative remains centred on the distant past, with the focus being the love life of young Chanel (played by Slovak actor Barbora Bobulova).

Anna Mouglalis in Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky (2009)

Audrey Tautou was recruited to become a Chanel face after playing Coco; Anna Mouglalis, however, had been modelling Chanel bags for years before she took the role in Jan Kounen's film about the bond between the two innovators of pre-war Europe. It's nearly inevitable that love again takes centre stage here, but at least there's the possibility of seeing Chanel going to that riot-inducing The Rite of Spring premiere in one riot of a white dress.