The Notorious Bettie Page Mary Harron

Gretchen Mol plays Bettie Page, the God-fearing good girl who moves to New York City from Nashville in pursuit of a modelling career, becoming a light bondage pin-up goddess in the process. As Page waits to testify outside a Senate hearing on obscenity, she wonders how she arrived in her present situation. Her recollections touch on redemption, the hypocrisy of "moral" '50s America and the gender roles it served to protect. Mary Harron cleverly subverts this climate by paying homage to films from the era. Her colour shots are a perfect Kodachrome palette, and her actors ply a skilled melodrama we haven't seen since Far From Heaven. Mol is pitch-perfect in the lead, her characterisation retaining empathy instead of veering into camp. The supporting players do more than their fair share to hold the story up, especially Chris Bauer as Irving Claw and Lily Taylor as his sister Paula, the photographic duo who give Bettie her "big break." Their neurotic banter is a tennis match of nerves that only Woody Allen could match. The production design often leaps off the screen, especially in the sudden colour shots of Page's time in Miami. Though it never upstages the action, you can't help but notice the detailed pieces in the background, not to mention Bettie's props and costumes. Her bondage gear is an education in restraint, and her bikini shots are heaven. And all of this, believe it or not, is done with a light and layered touch, epitomised in a scene where John Willie (Jared Harris) asks Bettie what "her God" would think of her occupation? Page, in a Jesus Christ bondage pose, points out that Adam and Eve were naked, and only became clothed when they transgressed, ending her monologue in a position echoing "The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian." There are no heavy-handed judgments or clumsy generalisations here. Harron intelligently uses just the right amount of poise and restraint. And what could suit Bettie Page more than poise and restraint? (Killer/John Wells/HBO)