We all know the fate of Bonnie and Clyde, the young outlaws who became media sensations during the lowest ebb of the 1930s American Depression. But that hasn’t curbed the public fascination with their story, even 80 years on. The latest dramatisation – Bonnie and Clyde – is a slick US-produced affair with Emile Hirsch and Holliday Grainger as the notorious duo, starring alongside Hollywood heavyweights Holly Hunter and William Hurt.
Back in their heyday, a large part of the national obsession was the glamorous image the pair purveyed. Before she met Clyde, Bonnie harboured aspirations of being a film star and, according to Grainger, it was that frustrated dream that nudged her towards a life of crime. “She was smart and creative but there was nothing open for women then. She could have been a secretary or a waitress, on the lookout for a good man. Clyde and this life of crime gave her a lot more control – there’s that way of taking your life into your own hands and being anti-establishment and free-spirited. Rebellious.”
So would they have crossed to the other side of the law had they lived today? “Bonnie and Clyde both had their own separate motivations. Clyde’s was revenge against the system because he experienced the atrocities of prison so I think for him that’s a driving force. Bonnie wouldn’t have been a criminal nowadays. She’d have been on Big Brother – it’s just easier now to get yourself out there. She’d be the queen of Twitter.”
So was she a victim of her circumstances? “It’s coming from poverty – petty crime as a necessity – and how that spirals out of control and once you’ve committed one accidental murder, there is no going back because it’s either jail or you carry on and there’s more collateral damage.
“I think that’s why this story is so interesting because you do like them but you can see that it’s spinning out of control. It’s like a Shakespearean tragedy – that inevitable decline.”
Over its two parts, Lifetime’s adaptation takes care to explore the pair’s back story – the difficult circumstances that led them to their criminal spree. In Clyde’s case, sexual abuse during his time in prison is believed to have served as motivation, whereas Bonnie was seduced by that need to break out andthe glamour of their headline-worthy lifestyle. But with a more sympathetic spin comes the inevitable suggestion that their story – and the “collateral” damage Bonnie and Clyde caused – has been somewhat romanticised. Grainger disagrees. “What it does well is you get a sense of the depression and the dull, dirty, difficult life that gives reasons or motivations for what they do. They just want to rob grocery stores, really – people just keep getting in their way.”
Chiefly responsible for their endless column inches was a camera roll discovered at one of the couple’s hideouts bearing the now-infamous images of Bonnie that led to her media branding as a “cigar smoking gun moll”.
“It was in that hideout that they also found Bonnie’s poems which they printed,” explains Grainger, “and that’s when they found a cigar butt with lipstick on which is why they were trying to say Bonnie smoked cigars” – an accusation Parker reportedly went to lengths to refute.
And while the pair’s two-year crime spree may bear a resemblance to the celebrity-obsessed culture we know today, the manner of their death was anything but pretty. “Bonnie and Clyde doesn’t shy away from a particularly gory ending,” teases Grainger. Trust us. She’s not kidding.