Review – Fashion doc ‘McQueen’ is always engaging, but rarely illuminating

Poster for 2018 documentary McQueen

Genre: Documentary
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 8th June 2018
Runtime: 111 minutes
Director: Ian Bonhôte, Peter Ettedgui
Writer: Peter Ettedgui
Starring: Alexander McQueen, Janet McQueen, Gary James McQueen, Detmar Blow, Sebastian Pons, Andrew Groves, Rebecca Barton
Synopsis: A journey through the short and ultimately tragic life of British fashion designer Alexander McQueen, who became one of the industry’s most polarising figures.



Even people who, like me, are a long way from being interested in fashion can appreciate that there was something unusual about Alexander McQueen. He was a working class lad from Stratford who somehow worked his way up to holding high office at places like Givenchy, while wowing and repulsing the world with controversial fashion collections that reflected his unique personality. In 2010, he committed suicide at the age of just 40, sending shockwaves through the fashion world. This new documentary, McQueen looks to tell his story from cradle to untimely grave.

Directing duo Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui have woven a intricate tapestry, structured around key collections produced by McQueen, from his blistering and controversial ‘Highland Rape’ show to his final ‘Plato’s Atlantis’ collection. The audience first meets Alexander, then known as Lee, as a young man who was commonly seen listening to Sinead O’Connor during his Saville Row apprenticeship. He said he “really worked the East End yob” persona and used his dole money to buy fabric and so had to hide from press at his early shows so that he could continue to claim.

It’s an entertaining documentary, peppered with McQueen’s cutting, foul-mouthed wit as well as talking head interviews with family members and other crucial figures in the designer’s life. These people are clearly hugely affected by what happened to their friend and relative and the documentary spends a great deal of time discussing the demons in McQueen’s life, including the way his increased fame and wealth led to excessive drug use. Their testimony is affectionate and insightful, but there’s not much in the way of depth to the way it tells its story.

Given the running time of McQueen, which stretches to nearly two hours, it’s surprising that the documentary feels so cursory. For those who lack knowledge of McQueen, it contains all of the key information as to what made him a controversial figure but, for people who know about his life, it lacks genuine insight. Everyone knows that this was a man “having to become something he didn’t want to be”, so it’s not something that requires two hours of filmmaking to explain.

With that said, there’s no denying the emotion at play in McQueen. He was, and still is, a hugely admired and beloved figure in the fashion industry and it’s appropriate that the documentary about his work is slightly ungainly and entirely devoted to its own oddball style. There might not be a lot that’s new in this story, but what there is is put together into a complete and poignant tribute to a man who genuinely shook up a very prim and proper world. When McQueen tells the camera that “fashion is a big bubble and sometimes I feel like popping it”, we believe every word.


Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

It isn’t the most revelatory of documentary films, but McQueen is an exhaustive portrait of the complex life of its subject. The talking head interviews and fashion show scenes are nicely put together and the contributors are driven by raw, real emotion, but there’s none of the intricacy and analysis of something like Asif Kapadia‘s Amy.


Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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