Being Julia


Directed by: Istvan Szabo
Written by:Ronald Harwood
Starring: Annette Bening, Jeremy Irons, Michael Gambon, Juliet Stevenson, Miriam Margolyes, Shaun Evans, Bruce Greenwood, Lucy Punch, Tom Sturridge
Released: March 17, 2005
Grade: A-

Julia Lambert (Bening) is one of the most respected stage actors of London.  She pours everything into her performances and adores the limelight that comes with her stature.  She must at all times be the centre of attention.

No one knows Julia better than her husband Michael (Irons).  A small-time actor himself, Michael is the businessman who operates in the background.  He helps secures the funding for Julia’s plays and keeps track of the ever increasing takings at the box-office.

The relationship that Julia and Michael share is not what you’d expect in London 1938.  As Julia says, their successful marriage can be attributed to the amount of time they don’t spend together.  They are often apart and when they are, they look more like good friends than lovers.

Tiring of her increasing workload on stage, Julia wants a change.  She wants “something to happen”.  It arrives in the form of a young man named Tom Fennel (Shaun Evans) who has adored Julia on stage for many years.  Always worrying about her own age, Julia is hilariously smitten with Tom’s increasing attention.

An affair ensues and Julia slowly lets her guard down.  It will be short-lived however as Tom falls for someone more his own age, a budding blonde actress named Avice Crichton (Lucy Punch).  It’s an emotional blow for the fragile Julia but I will not disclose what happens from here.  It may sound like a tear-jerking drama but I was left with a beaming smile throughout the incredibly well-written finale.

She was dazzling in American Beauty but Being Julia would have to be Annette Bening’s finest role.  The character may be a spoilt diva who acts both on and off the stage but Bening makes her wonderfully endearing and we can’t help but love and applaud her.  Her facial expressions are simply priceless and Bening’s efforts won her a Golden Globe award of which she was thoroughly deserving.

The film is based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham which I know nothing of.  However, I do know of the two men responsible for bringing it to the screen.  Writer Ron Harwood is a master at adapting a literary work into a great movie screenplay.  He won an Oscar two years ago for The Pianist but I became a fan back in 1995 when he adapted The Browning Version (directed by Mike Figgis and starring Albert Finney).  He’s currently working on a new version of Oliver Twist to be released later this year under the direction of Roman Polanski.

The other man worthy of applause is Hungarian director Istvan Szabo.  Period piece films often develop into a yawn as the director focuses more on the setting rather than the story and its characters.  A man of experience (having been directing for more than 40 years), Szabo keeps the film moving and there is seldom a dull moment.  Particularly impressive is the way he intertwines Michael Gambon’s character throughout.  Mychael Danna’s film score is also worth of a mention – its elegance helps set the light-hearted tone.

Being Julia is a top-notch period piece with some superb one-on-one dialogue.  If you think the melodramatic conversations that Julia shares with her husband can’t be topped, wait till you see her speak with her son.  Annette Bening, take a bow.