In the year that Diana Prince finally made it to the big screen after trying for so long, it seems only fitting that the end of the same year should bring a drama that chronicles the life of its creator, as well as the two women who played an instrumental role in influencing her creation.
Written and directed by Angela Robinson, the film portrays the life of William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) and his polyamorous relationship with his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and lover Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), placing at its core the influence of two women at the heart of a relationship that led to the creation of one of pop culture’s most famous fictional characters.
Given that this is a film dealing with subject matter that includes a central relationship such as this between its three central characters, it’s a joy to note that writer/director Angela Robinson’s film is a very elegant and incredibly classy affair, not to mention good fun around the edges, with a style that is witty and at times deeply moving and engaging.
There could very easily be another version of this film that is sensationalist and dreadfully unsubtle, and while there are probably key moments that have been compressed, or historical detail overlooked for the sake of dramatic narrative, the fact is that Marston’s life and the relationship he shared with his wife Elizabeth and Olive Byrne is beautifully portrayed, with genuine compassion and sensitivity. If placed in the hands of a director with nowhere near the level of intelligence as Angela Robinson clearly has, the film could have easily been awful, but instead she has gifted the audience a movie that treats its characters and story with deep love and respect.
The film is not afraid to show the physical side of William, Elizabeth and Olive’s relationship, but never once is there a feeling of exploitation. There is a subtlety and even a genuine romantic touch to it that is a joy. As well as a brilliant and loving portrayal of polyamory, the film deals with many aspects of how society in the past, particularly the 1940’s (and still are in some regards, sadly), was ill-equipped to deal with ideals that were deeply liberal and forward thinking, resorting to name calling, punching and censorship to swipe under the rug aspects that everyone was unwilling to think about or open their mind to.
Marston may have created an icon, and we can all go to our movie theatres in droves to cheer her on when she walks over No Man’s Land, or team up with the Justice League, but in creating her he found himself at the receiving end of almost fascist-like investigations into his narratives, imagery and personal life, especially during the lead-up to the creation of the Comics Code.
For a film that deals with its story and its characters in a lovely manner, with a jovial step and an element of classy fun and droll wit at times, there is also a subtle and dignified anger running underneath when other characters cannot accept the relationship at the heart of the film, or when censorship is beginning to impose. The film never gets up onto a soapbox, but it doesn’t have to. In this day and age, seeing negative attitudes towards love, sex and freedom of expression are just enough to make the blood boil, and even if the film never goes over the top or become hysterical in its anger, the anger is there, quietly pulsating at the edge of the frame.
Instead of just passively letting the audience watch the movie, eagerly awaiting a sex scene with three actors, or even judging the living style of the people it’s about, Robinson practically has the audience cheering on for the central relationship as the rest of the world struggles to understand or accept it, as well the resulting controversy over Marston’s creation, which was made up of many elements from his psychological theories, as well as inspired by the two women who played a key part in his life.
If there are any failings to be had it’s that the story and the characters are almost too much for one movie. Given it’s period detail and historical narrative, there is a part of you that almost wishes it was twice as long, maybe as a mini-series or an actual television series in the style of Masters of Sex. Elizabeth, Olive and William are actually wonderfully developed by Robinson that one almost wishes that there were whole hours devoted to their lives, their relationships, the creation of Wonder Woman and the resultant controversy over her.
It also helps that the casting is genuinely spot on. There is a threat that Luke Evans may be a touch too handsome to play Marston, but he brings charm and gravitas, not to mention a great deal of compassion, while Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote are sensational throughout, the Wonder Women of the title, and every time they’re on-screen, either together or with other people, you can’t help but be drawn in to their performances. Hall in particular is fantastic, being both assertive, vulnerable and strong, driving home what the character is feeling and thinking in a brilliantly raw manner.
Classy, elegant, not to mention sex-positive, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is an unqualified success in every way and it quite simply wonderful.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is now on general release in the UK. Let us know what you think of it!