We’ll Take Manhattan follows cockney photographer David Bailey (Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard) and model Jean Shrimpton (Karen Gillen – Doctor Who’s Amy Pond) on their trip to New York in 1962 for a Vogue photo shoot. Written and directed by John McKay, the drama focuses on their love affair and how these two working class youngsters defied their accompanying editor, Lady Clare Rendlesham (Helen McCrory), and changed the world of fashion with their photographs.
We’ll Take Manhattan starts with them boarding the plane to New York but then flashes back to show how they got to this point, providing the audience with some stylish snapshots of important moments leading up to the big shoot. Bailey (as he likes to be called) quits his job working for another photographer in the hope of working for himself, and before long he gets a phone call from Vogue offering him a position. Bailey spots Jean and later asks for her in person to do some shoots. They are both unconventional and looked down upon in their professions because of their class and background. Bailey wants to do something the industry hasn’t seen before and offers a fresh and interesting new approach. However, his antics don’t go down well with Jean’s Dad (Robert Glenister), who kicks her out of the family farmhouse for seeing him.
Vogue offers Bailey a shoot in New York for the magazine’s ‘Young Idea Goes West’ feature. He refuses to do it without Jean as the model and the fashion editor reluctantly agrees although she finds Jean “plain”. In New York, it soon becomes clear that Bailey’s vision for the photographs is completely different to Lady Clare’s. She tells him he might learn something at Vogue if he “follows instructions” but he wants to do something new and innovative. He shoots on a small Pentax camera instead of the more conventional method using a tripod. She wants him to take photos in front of the city’s famous buildings but he is more interested in the gritty streets and their vibe. He turns his back on one landmark and shoots in the opposite direction, he also shoots one through a chain-link fence and stands Jean under a no-dog-fouling sign for another.
We’ll Take Manhattan sees relative newcomer Aneurin Barnard portraying David Bailey as self-assured and stubborn but at the same time cheeky and charming. He is watchable but his character’s frequent use of cockney rhyming slang gets a little grating after a while. The drama features lots of snobs who are very posh and rather cartoonish. Bailey clashes with them due to differences of opinion and the old guard don’t seem to like the idea of young, creative, working class folk coming in and taking their positions.
Bailey is seen trying to break into the class-bound area of “high” fashion photography but doesn’t want to be forced to change his style or his muse. Jean Shrimpton is Karen Gillan’s first role after Doctor Who and it doesn’t push her too hard. She is edgy and gorgeous rather than the plain, girl-next-door-type people keep saying she is. The drama ultimately overemphasizes the conflict between the old and the fresh young faces that became ‘60s icons, with Bailey earnestly delivering speeches like: “There’s a new world where everyone will be applauded and be beautiful not because of who their daddy was but because of who they are!”
DIRECTOR: JOHN MCKAY
STARS: KAREN GILLAN, ANEURIN BARNARD, HELEN McCRORY, JOSEPH MAY, ROBERT GLENISTER
RUNTIME: 90 MINS APPROX