“In 1962, no one had heard of the Beatles. No one expected to be famous, who was not born rich or titled. And there was no such thing as youth culture. But then David Bailey and Jean Shrimpton went to New York.”
As the opening titles suggest, We’ll Take Manhattan follows the love affair between photographer David Bailey (Aneurin Barnard) and his muse Jean Shrimpton (Karen Gillan) as they fly to New York in 1962 for a Vogue photo shoot. However, what they didn’t realise was that the ground-breaking photos Bailey captured would revolutionise the face of fashion back in Britain.
Director and writer, John McKay launches the BBC4 drama straight into Bailey and Shrimpton boarding their flight to New York. The first question that springs to mind: why is Jean carrying a teddy bear?
Luckily simplistic snapshots then show us how the pair ended up on their Manhattan adventure. In 1960, Bailey quits his job at a lesser known photographers because he has bright ambitious dreams to bring a fresh edge to fashion. Quickly afterwards he lands a job with Vogue. When Bailey first meets the aspiring model, Shrimpton, she instantly becomes his muse. Vogue offers Bailey a chance to shot for the breaking the rules ‘Young Idea Goes West’ feature and he accepts, on one condition: Shrimpton is his model. After much reluctance from the magazine’s old fashioned editor, Lady Clare Rendlesham, the two are finally jetting off to a stressful paradise. They are warned that if the photos turn out bad then both their careers will go down the bucket. The lovers only have one chance to wow in New York.
The photo shoot itself takes its toll on both Bailey, who wants to be accepted, and Jean, who struggles with the pressures of being a model. The film expresses the contrasts between the old and the young, the rich and the poor and changing and maintaining. Both Jean and Bailey are working class youngsters living in an era where the high class elder generation are calling all the shots (no pun intended). Their photo shoot is all about breaking free from the stereotypical word they live in. Lady Jane is the perfect symbolism of the people in society Bailey detests: she is more in touch with artificiality whereas Bailey focuses on the vibe of the city. The only thing remotely similar between the two is their stubbornness. As the week tares on, Jean falls into an identity crisis. Fashion is essential in expressing your personality and with each different style of clothing Jean is forced to wear, this damages her individuality. She can’t choose her own image and thus; her soul suffers as a consequence.
Doctor Who sidekick, Karen Gillan, started out as a model herself so this was by far her perfect role. She brought a great edge to her performance which no doubt shows she has a bright future ahead once her time on the sci-fi show ends. However, it is rising star, Aneurin Barnard, who steals the show with his portrayal of the cockney charmer, Bailey. Gillian and Aneurin scenes together are magical and they easily enthral you into Bailey and Jean’s story.
From the beginning you are absorbed into a tangle of light humour, energetic performance and a sixties soundtrack to die for. The 60s youth revolution was an era time will never forget and McKay has captured how it all began.
- We’ll Take Manhattan: the impact of David Bailey and Jean Shrimpton revisited (lucire.com)
- Well Take Manhattan (BBC4) (newstatesman.com)
- David Bailey’s favourite model Jean Shrimpton was the Shrimp who sparked the Sixties (telegraph.co.uk)