In theory, this could have been so great.

It is the story of Andy, an aspiring journalist who takes a job as a PA in a fashion magazine out of desperation, hates the whole idea and every second of her ultra-demeaning worklife, but decides to stick it out in the hope that it will lead to better things. Will she be seduced by the glamour and wealth of the fashion world, impressed by the dedication and hard work of her colleagues, will she come to appreciate the joy of fashion and shine in her new-found vocation, leaving behind her stolid, unfashionable friends? Or will she continue in her idealistic integrity, hating every second, but surviving with her soul intact?

This was an opportunity to show the shallow, self-obsessed, self-loathing, woman-loathing fashion and beauty industry in a true, cold light – it could have been a scathing attack, a ruthlessly honest exposé. Of course I didn’t seriously expect that the film would deliver on such promises, which is just as well.

Andy (Anne Hathaway) starts off as an ordinary college graduate with (if the newspaper clippings that she is shown fondly looking over in the opening scenes are anything to go by) feminist leanings. If anything, her clothes get frumpier as she spends time in the presence of fashion slaves until her magical teen-princess style fashion makeover slowly begins to earn her the grudging approval of evil boss from hell Miranda (Meryl Streep) and the resentment of chief PA Emily (Emily Blunt), who loves to be kicked about by Miranda, as long as there is Chanel.

At first Andy can hardly bear her humiliations, but at least she can see them. Slowly, like a good wife, she turns native and embraces her slavery. She becomes rather good at anticipating Miranda’s every need and whim and seems to get an actual kick out of her success at what is still a hideously degrading job. She even starts to get a kick out of her own degradation – as we see when, for example, near the end she is teased by a colleague about being OMG a size 6 fatso, and proudly and happily announces that she is now actually a size 4 and therefore human. Of course, she is not seen in any way dieting or exercising to achieve this amazing feat of self-improvement (indeed, poor old Emily who will do anything to disappear for the sake of fashion, is mocked for her refusal to eat properly) and so must have done it by sheer dint of wearing fashionable clothes and running about on Miranda’s errands.

The moral of the tale? The insightful conclusion?

Andy packs in her job, goes back to the boyfriend who dumped her when she became one of them, and gets a job on a real paper. Good call. Except maybe the part about going back to the boyfriend, who seemed pretty dull. And the part where she stays thin and carries on wearing clothes that she cannot afford because hey at least that job taught her how to look good. And the part where you wonder whether Andy will ever stand up for herself again.

But what really irks is the treatment of Miranda. The very end of the film shows her resplendent, unmoved, unchanged. Why are we left with this wistful, admiring vision of Miranda? It is with Miranda that we are expected to leave our hearts, because it is Miranda who has touched our lives – and Andy’s.

Demanding she may be, impossible to work for it’s true – but still she is, if the producers have their way, to be admired. The film does not just show us Miranda’s human side as a counterpoint to redeem her inhuman coldness and ruthlessness in pursuit of the top of an ignoble profession: it expects us to appreciate and admire her, to see her coldness and ruthlessness as necessary tools for an end worth reaching. It does not condemn the fashion industry. It practically ennobles it by showing its worst excesses in a sympathetic light, by portraying fashion as important, by repeatedly asserting that what these people are working so hard to achieve actually matters.

People? Fashion isn’t important. It’s a cruel fantasy, perpetuated by propaganda like this – a film that purports to be incisive and ends by giving Big Fashion a big love.