Beauty on screen

Films and beauty are two of my great passions so it’s no surprise that I’ve always loved the style of many actresses from my favourite films and tried to copy many aspects of their look at home with varying levels of success. Here are just a few of my main influences.

Emmanuelle Béart in Manon des Sources

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She’s been a major star for so long but this was her breakthrough role. It was also the second French film I ever saw at the cinema with my parents after Jean de Florette. The character of Manon is rather wild and free so Emmanuelle’s natural beauty and flowing hair were perfect. This is far from my own beauty philosophy but I admire anyone who can appear so fresh faced and luminous with very little make-up.

Léna Skerla in Le Feu Follet

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Ironically for someone who doesn’t drink, some of my favourite films are about alcoholics including this masterpiece by Louis Malle. I used to watch it constantly as a teenager – it seemed so honest and beautiful. Of course, the most remarkable performance is by Maurice Ronet as the tortured Alain Leroy but the film opens with a scene between him and Léna Skerla as Lydia. After spending the night together, she goes to the bathroom to apply her eyeliner with a pencil. I’ve been fascinated by her face and eyes ever since, not to mention that perfect bob. I’ve never seen this actress in anything else but she was probably my first serious beauty icon.

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Jeanne Moreau in L’ascenseur pour l’échafaud/ Lift to the scaffold

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More Malle and Maurice Ronet again but this time his first film. It’s a brilliant début with extraordinary photography and a soundtrack by the great Miles Davis. But it’s also famous for the opening close-up with Jeanne Moreau’s incredible face. She had already made her mark as a stage and screen actress but Malle wanted to show her face without heavy make-up. There’s no question she’s beautiful but it’s not just superficial prettiness and Hollywood perfection. This is a woman who’s lived -there are shadows under her eyes (writing as someone who’s had them all their life, I’m grateful for this) and she has a full, sensual mouth with corners that turn down. There’s also the husky voice that you know comes from cigarettes and late nights. The image of her in the phone booth became so famous, it was used on a French phonecard.

Anna Karina in Jean-Luc Godard films

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I realise all my icons so far are French and really Anna belongs to this category too as a New Wave muse, despite coming from Denmark. She could be sad, funny, whimsical or sensual but she was always gorgeous. That dark hair and perfect eyeliner, the blue eyeshadow and pink lips make her a timeless beauty icon.

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Ingrid Thulin in Wild Strawberries

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Ingrid Thulin’s face in Bergman’s Wild Strawberries remains one of the most astonishing things ever. She just fills the screen with an incredible luminosity. Lots of actresses are beautiful but Ingrid had something special it’s difficult to identify – perhaps the cool elegance, perhaps the wide smile which always seems tempered by sadness and her expressive eyes. She was the perfect actress for Bergman but I feel sad that I only saw her in one other film by a different director, Alain Resnais’ masterpiece, La Guerre est Finie, alongside Yves Montand.

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

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As a lover of red lipstick in all its forms, Marilyn has to be one of my ultimate beauty icons. This is the film I saw her in first many years ago and I still find it refreshing how two women with different body shapes were cast in the lead roles, particularly when you consider the size zero stars in today’s Hollywood blockbusters.

Zhang Ziyi in 2046

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Shortly after moving to France, I went to the local arts cinema to see a late night screening. I had never heard of the director but the poster and film title intrigued me. 2046 by Wong Kar-Wai was a revelation to me. Poetry expressed in the story and beautiful images, music that conjured up a time and place and at the end I was left with the sense of having been on a journey through past and future. The director stated that he wanted to show off East Asia’s most beautiful actresses and there’s no denying that he most certainly achieved this. One of the most amazing scenes is with Zhang Ziyi sashaying her way into the room with its soft green and red lights, wearing a stunning, skin tight dress while her neighbour, played by Tony Leung, watches secretly. Throughout the film, she wears a series of exquisitely tailored dresses from extraordinary  material. Her make-up is classic  – a perfect eyeliner flick accompanied by an elegant but simple updo hairstyle.

Bette Davis in All About Eve

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I had heard of this film many times but it was my friend Abbie who finally lent me the DVD, telling me that Bette Davis was her hero. Of course, I absolutely loved it – the waspish dialogue, clever twists and excellent acting all round (also George Sanders with that magnificent voice). Bette Davis was a revelation – there are prettier actresses in the film but you don’t take much notice of them when they share a scene with Bette. I found this refreshing proof that great screen presence isn’t just about classical beauty. In fact there were very few actresses (Ann Sheridan in The Man Who Came to Dinner, for instance) who could steal a scene from her. You can’t stop looking at that remarkable face with the famous eyes, arched brows and full mouth and here was an actress who wasn’t afraid to look or be different. Her performances still seem fresh today which surely explains enormous popularity.

Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl

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Like with Bette Davis, Barbra’s face stopped me in my tracks. It’s simply wonderful. How refreshing that a Jewish woman with an undeniably big nose was cast in the lead role of a major film and lights up the screen. Barbra has those amazing, almond shaped eyes and proves that you don’t have to look like everyone else to be beautiful. The animal print coat is the icing on the cake, of course.

Hitchcock blondes

I sometimes dream of being a redhead but never a blonde. Until I watch Alfred Hitchcock films that is. It’s impossible to pick a favourite but here are a few:

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Kim Novak in Vertigo. Such a haunting performance and I love that silvery blonde hair.

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Tippi Hedren in The Birds with that flash of blue eyeshadow and peachy pink lips

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Doomed Janet Leigh in Psycho. Hard to imagine anyone else playing this role with her mix of sensuality and brittleness.

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Classy Grace Kelly with her confidence and glamour. Those glossy red lips and that sleek hairstyle look incredible.

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Chic and mysterious Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest.

Monica Vitti in L’avventura

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Not much happens in Antonioni’s existential masterpiece but it’s facinating thanks in no small part to the performance of Monica Vitti. She is sexy and stylish with her blonde hair and elegant black dresses but it’s her beautiful, expressive face that makes the film so compelling. The desperation to find the friend who has gone missing, the hope of finding a connection with her friend’s boyfriend, mixed with the guilt of betrayal and the realisation that the distance is just too great.  Interestingly, Antonioni later claimed to have been influenced by Jeanne Moreau on the Champs Elysées in Lift to the Scaffold in directing the way Monica Vitti walks through the town.

Lauren Bacall in To Have and To Have Not

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It was Howard Hawks’ wife Slim who famously found the then Betty Perske on a magazine cover and suggested her for his latest film. Hawks was keen to mould her into a star, giving her a new name, styling her like his wife and quite likely hoping to have an affair with her himself. Lauren Bacall broke the mould though with her arched, unplucked eyebrows and tall, sporty physique. She smoulders in every scene, making wisecracks in her husky voice. Along with Rita Hayworth’s hairstyle in Gilda, her sleek waves remain my ultimate pin curl goal, one with I’m unlikely to ever achieve and her brows and cheekbones are to die for.

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