Baroness Von Hellman is the main antagonist of the 2021 film, Cruella, portrayed by Emma Thompson. She is the biological mother of Cruella De Vil and an esteemed fashion designer operating in London. Known for founding the House of Baroness, she is fiercely protective of her position and reputation.
"Estella’s flair for fashion catches the eye of the Baroness von Hellman, a fashion legend who is devastatingly chic and terrifyingly haute. But their relationship sets in motion a course of events and revelations that will cause Estella to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous, fashionable, and revenge-bent Cruella."
The Baroness is a brilliant businesswoman with a flair for dramatics, carrying herself with a confidence that commands the attention and respect of everyone she encounters, but her brilliance comes with a deep selfishness, self-indulgence and demeaning attitude toward anyone she perceives as less than her, viewing them as little more than obstacles in her way of success. She is incapable of giving others credit for their fashion designs yet has no qualms using them as a means of standing out from her competitors in the industry, as displayed by her claiming the marvelous designs of Estella as her own. She is frequently described as a narcissist by those around her due to her fixation with being the center of attention, favoring elaborate parties and galas at her mansion estate as a means of placing her superiority on full display. When challenged by anyone who stands in the way of that attention or the fame she works so hard to maintain, she actively goes out of her way to outdo them. This desire gradually reveals more of the Baroness’s true nature, as it eventually becomes apparent that beyond merely being selfish, she will resort to dark methods - including murder - to deal with others, revealing herself to be a sociopath/psychopath. Her desire to be the only person to maintain her wealth and fame went so as far as refusing to keep and even slaughter her only daughter, as she feared the child would take admiration off of her and inherit the Baron's fortune, showing that she is incapable of love whatsoever.
The Baroness is a middle aged woman with pale skin, striking features and a slender figure. She has short, brown eyes and thick brown hair which she wore in a variety of styles, mostly in a big top knot or covered with turban. She also has an expensive and extravagant taste in fashion which is to be expected given her profession, with her wearing a variety of different high fashion suits and dresses over the course of the film.
In the past, Baroness Von Hellman married Baron Von Hellman (for his money and high status) and eventually carried his daughter. While the Baron was a benevolent man and a caring father to his unborn child, The Baroness did not take her pregnancy with joy and instead she wanted to get rid of the baby.
After Estella was born, the Baroness unable to handle the possibility of her own daughter upstaging her so she ordered her her valet and confidante John to kill Estella in secret. John was unable to kill an newborn baby so he gave it to Catherine Miller, a kind-hearted maid to raise her. The Baroness lied to the Baron that she had suffered a miscarriage, causing the Baron to die from a broken heart while the latter was on a business trip.
The Baroness Von Hellman is a renowned but notorious and authoritative fashion designer and the owner of the fashion couture company, House of Baroness. Her notoriety made her a public figure and a role model of sorts to a young Estella.
During a surprise visit to one of her many stores in London, particularly on the Liberty department store, the Baroness notices the wild window shop display. She also witnesses Estella and her two friends Jasper and Horace being arrested on the scene. Baroness learns that Estella is responsible for the window display and commends her talent, coldly telling the shop owner that it's the best display the store has in years.
She promptly hires Estella as a designer in her fashion company. She quickly becomes impressed by Estella's designs and sees promise and a potential in her talents. One day, Estella recognizes her mother Catherine's necklace around the Baroness’s neck. Baroness spins a tale of a former employee who stole it from her. Estella realizes that Catherine went to see the Baroness the night of her death (of which Catherine falls to her death onto the cliffside balcony), and it was her gala that they've attended.
Estella hatches a plan to steal the necklace, which includes turning herself into her alter-ego Cruella to disguise her identity and to distract Baroness and the guests attending the gala, while Jasper and Horace work together to steal the necklace. Baroness loves the center of attention and demands that everyone in attendance wear black and white, though she wears a stunning and far more superior and remarkable dress to her guests.
Cruella crashes the gala in a white cloak that goes up in flames to reveal a red dress (of which Estella purchased the dress from a vintage fashion shop owner, Artie, that Estella recently acquainted with), stealing the spotlight from the Baroness in the process (much to the Baroness' annoyance and frustration). Baroness' interest piques at the masked guest, and they quickly start talking about who Cruella is. Cruella notices the necklace around Baroness' neck, so Jasper releases rats to distract her while Cruella steals the necklace.
Amidst the pandemonium and chaos, the Baroness uses a dog whistle to command her Dalmatian dogs, and Estella realizes that Baroness used the same whistle to direct her dogs to kill Catherine. One of the Dalmatians eats the necklace while Cruella, Horace, and Jasper flee in a stolen Panther de Ville.
The following day, Cruella orders the duo to kidnap the three Dalmatians until one of them gives up the necklace. Baroness is outraged upon hearing the news of the abduction of her dogs and demands the police find, identify, and arrest Cruella.
Now with a proper motivation for revenge, Cruella plans to avenge her mother’s death by ruining the Baroness’s life. She taunts and upstages the Baroness by appearing at her events and gatherings in lavish and extravagant outfits, which drew the attention and notoriety via Estella's childhood friend, Anita Darling, who is working as a gossip columnist. All the while, Baroness' sales continuously drop as Cruella rises in fame.
She becomes unhinged in her efforts to identify Cruella, even firing her lawyer for failing to do so.
Later, Baroness' spring collection show was eventually sabotaged after a swarm of South American moths (which were smuggled by Horace into the building as gold embroidery (which in reality were moth cocoons) and were used by Estella to create a signature dress gown) were unleashed on show from the vault, which destroyed the signature dress gown and all the other dress creations in the process, angering the Baroness. Not long after, Estella sets up her own show in Regent's Park, which attracted the attention of the guests fleeing the sabotaged Baroness' spring collection show and during the show, Estella was seen wearing a faux Dalmatian-fur coat to further taunt the Baroness.
The Baroness figured out that Cruella's real identity is Estella, which led to the Baroness and her henchmen in locating her hideout, and captured Jasper and Horace. Baroness attempts to murder Cruella in a fire, to pin the latter's death on Jasper and Horace, while sending the duo to prison.
Suddenly, Estella, along with Wink and Buddy were rescued by John, the Baroness's right-hand-man, confidante, and valet, who then brings Cruella along with her dogs to his house to recover. John then shows Estella the key hidden on the necklace, which unlocks a box containing her birth records and then reveals the truth to Estella of being the Baroness' daughter.
The Baroness is narcissistic and angered by her pregnancy as it would shift attention from her. After giving birth, she instructed John to "get rid of" the child. Unable to bring himself to murder the child, John gave the baby to their sweet maid Catherine Miller who raised Estella in secret.
Baroness plans her final gala of the season, but is extremely annoyed to see all her guests donning black and white wigs that resemble Cruella's hair in honor and respect on her passing, though she pretends that it's her idea to appease the crowd and feigns an honor out of Cruella's memory. Estella lures Baroness outside to the cliffs, and Baroness orders her dogs to attack Cruella, though the latter easily commands them to her side (after stealing the whistle in secret earlier, while dressed as Cruella). Estella then reveals her identity as the Baroness' daughter.
Baroness feigns compassion and remorse for Estella, though when they embrace, she pushes Estella over the cliffs to her death. Horace, along with John and Artie had guided the guests outside the mansion so the entire debacle is witnessed by police officers, security guards, and guests alike. When the Baroness sees she's been exposed, she tries to cover up her actions by saying that Cruella jumped, but she ends up being arrested. Meanwhile, Estella survives with a well-trimmed skirt made into a parachute.
With Estella's murder, Baroness is arrested and the family’s fortune is inherited by Cruella De Vil per Estella’s will. As she is taken to jail, Baroness screams about Cruella being Estella, though no one believes her. She then swears revenge against Estella as she's taken away by the police and sent to jail. It is completely unknown what happened with the Baroness afterwards or if she ever tried to put in place her revenge on Cruella, but given her crimes, it's highly likely that the Baroness was sent to prison for the rest of her life.
- The Baroness was created specifically for Cruella and has no animated counterpart.
- The Baroness is a much more fleshed out character than Cruella De Vil's mother in 101 Dalmatians: The Series.
- The Baroness is implied to have killed multiple people in a similar fashion to how she did to Catherine throughout her life given her response to Cruella's declaration that she killed her mother. This makes the Baroness more dangerous and threatening than the villains in the original version of One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
- She hates not getting her way to the point she breaks the law and takes out her tantrums on others. After her arrest, her guards and staff likely turned on the Baroness and exposed all her illegal activities. It's likely they were coerced into silence.
- The Baroness' characteristics and personalities resembles of Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada and Reynolds Woodcock from Phantom Thread.
- Baroness von Hellman is the first main antagonist of a 101 Dalmatians movie who isn't Cruella De Vil. In all other movies of the franchise, animated or live-action, Cruella was always the main antagonist.
- One of her Dalmatians is named Genghis who is later revealed to be the mother of Pongo and Perdita.
- In the movie, she is only referred by her title, The Baroness, rather than her full name.
- It is possible that her last name and title were given to her upon her marriage to her husband, the late Baron Von Hellman. She inherited Hellman Hall when he died. Based on her last name, the Baroness is possibly a German noble.
- Similar to the other versions of Cruella's mother such as the Once Upon a Time and 101 Dalmatians: The Series versions (Madeline and Malevola De Vil), she has trained dogs that are loyal to her, but similar to her other versions they abandon her when Cruella finally confronts her.