The defining image of Uma Thurman is that of a raven-haired vamp with dark red nails, staring down from a Pulp Fiction poster. It is an iconic photograph, imprinted for ever in the mind of anyone who walked past a billboard in the 1990s. A new biography of Thurman is now attempting to immortalise her for a second time and proves an engaging read.
The daughter of a one-eyed celebrity Buddhist and a model-turned-psychotherapist, Thurman had an unconventional childhood, discussing philosophy with monks and hanging out with Richard Gere. An awkward child, with over-sized features and a wardrobe of hippie cast-offs, Thurman was obvious prey for playground bullies. Bryony Sutherland and Lucy Ellis make much of the ugly duckling parallel, turning the story of Uma Thurman into a classic Hollywood fairytale: once upon a time there was a little girl with big feet and a funny face who grew into a statuesque celluloid princess. The End.
We ought not, however, write off the book as easy cliché, for it is astutely paced and comprehensively researched. We learn how Thurman performed in a school production of The Crucible and moved to New York, aged 15, to model her way into the movies. Early false starts included the role of a naked giant Venus in Terry Gilliam's Baron Munchausen, before Dangerous Liaisons and Quentin Tarantino catapulted her on to the A-list.
The story is crammed with quirky details. Thurman is a huge Jane Austen fan: her brother appears in The Truth about Cats and Dogs: there is a statue of her grandmother in Stockholm... The text is peppered with Uma-isms, as though the actress is providing a voiceover to her story. 'Films are like soufflés,' she declares, 'sometimes they rise, sometimes they fall.' Or: 'If you're not looking forward, you're looking backward or to the side, and you're going to smack into something really hard.' Thurman can evidently coin a phrase, and her soundbites flesh out the narrative with a sense of personality.
Sutherland and Ellis, both veterans of celebrity journalism, know how to serve up a readable biography... Sutherland and Ellis are professional storytellers and in their hands Uma Thurman's life shapes itself into a tale well told.