Published Oct 01, 2004Theatre has been single-handedly responsible for generating some of the most flamingly intolerable personalities in the human lexicon: Barbara Streisand, anyone? But nothing will take your mind off of your own shortcomings like seeing someone wrenching themselves inside and out in an attempt to get at their darker self. Enter the world of Being Julia.
Set in pre-war England, the film sets its klieg lights on Julia Lambert (Annette Bening), a talented actress at the peak of her powers who has committed the unforgivable sin of wanting to continue to work well into her 40s. Married to the producer/lothario (Jeremy Irons), who masterminded her career, and struggling with the roles she plays on stage and off Julia is in need of a boost and she gets it in the form of Tom Fennell (Shaun Evans), a gold-digging American sycophant looking for an in to London society.
After a clunky seduction, Tom and Julia set off on a torrid affair that briefly provides them both with what they're searching for: a taste of rekindled passion and youth, and a sugar-mama to pay the heating bill, respectively. But, alas, it all ends when our gal Julia is quickly discarded for a young chippy whose career, it should be noted, is given a considerable boost when she is cast in the newest play featuring our selfless and humble main character.
Director István Szabó's Oscar-winning film Mephisto, also set within the theatre, cast its eye towards revealing the variant ways in which role-play took over each of its characters' lives. Despite its incredible pedigree (it is based on the W. Someset Maugham novel Theater and adapted by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Ronald Harwood), Being Julia provides no compelling insights into the conversation that is at its core: the state of womanhood in theatre.
In fact, the most difficult and ironic fact about this film is that were it not for the beautiful period set pieces and lush costumes, it could be situated in present day. You can't help but wonder whether Bening's smart performance would have changed were she garbed in a sensible pantsuit and chaffing at being passed over for the roles being snatched up by the likes of Charlize Theron. I guess for Szabo and company just "being" has to be enough. (Th!nk)