The life of iconic fashion designer Roy Halston was a whirlwind affair, so it makes sense that Netflix‘s sensationalist TV show about him would be too. 50 years fly by in just five episodes of the new miniseries, which documents his childhood, meteoric rise and eventual downfall – along with decades of hard partying. If that sounds like an immense amount to pack in to five episodes, it’s because it is.
Starring Ewan McGregor as the titular socialite, Halston takes place mostly in New York – the centre of his empire. But instead of choosing just one aspect of Halston’s story to zoom in on, we’re given a whistle-stop tour of all of it: the nights in legendary club Studio 54, the famous friends (including Liza Minelli and Joel Schumacher), the shouting matches with suited executives. It feels overwhelming, the equivalent of being handed a 300-page La Redoute catalogue to pick out a new winter coat, instead of just trying on two nice options in your favourite shop.
Luckily, McGregor is dynamite in the role. He plays Halston with a bitter drawl, prickly body language and a permanent frown. It’s a little alienating because of just how impenetrable he is – but mostly works in this world with its rude and ruthlessly ambitious creatives, all trying to stand out in a society which they’ve never fit into.
One of the show’s most poignant moments finds Halston bereft after losing the rights to his name because he didn’t read the small print in a contract. He’s quiet, the wind completely knocked out of him, a scared look in his eye – it’s vintage McGregor. Few of his capricious outbursts that litter each episode really strike a nerve, but when he’s whimpering about how he wasn’t careful (or clever) enough the performance really rings true.
Halston rarely reveals its subject’s vulnerable side – the makers are too obsessed with glamour and a rock and roll aesthetic – but the moments in which cracks begin to show are undoubtedly the best. For example, when Halston sits in the back of a sold-out crowd, watching his designs on stage while struggling not to cry, we properly feel his pain. Only then is the viewer allowed to finally take a deep breath. It’s in that silence you can try and fill in the gaps, because you might enjoy the show – the sass, the ultrasuede, the mystique of it all – but there’s a hell of a lot more of Halston’s story that remains untold.
‘Halston’ is streaming on Netflix now