Professor Marston and the Wonder Women – Film Review by Frank L.
Director: Angela Robinson
Writer: Angela Robinson
Stars: Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote
Angela Robinson wrote and directed this biopic based on the polyamorous relationship between William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote). The opening disconcerting image is of a “nice”, respectable crowd of men, women and children throwing onto a bonfire copies of a comic entitled “Wonder Woman”. To the enraged crowd “Wonder Woman” was an attack on the traditional family values which they held dear. “Wonder Woman” was the brainchild of Marston who was an academic psychologist. In the nineteen twenties and thirties he had been investigating the influences which informed sexual relations.
In his domestic life, he lived with his wife Elizabeth and Olive, a ménage à trois and he had children with both women. Inevitably this relationship led to antagonism with some of their neighbours. Out of this milieu he created the fictional character “Wonder Woman” who was a representation of femininity antagonistic to that held by the comic-burning crowd. This complexity of the relationship is what Robinson seeks to explain.
It is far from a simple task as it inevitably has to create a dialogue about matters of intimacy which are not usually audible by an outsider. Therefore at times it would appear that some of the verbal exchanges between the three principal characters seem somewhat forced but that probably is unavoidalble with such private exchanges. That aside, Robinson demonstrates the seriousness of these three persons endeavour to make a tripartite relationship viable. That domestic seriousness stands in contrast to the fantastical creation of Wonder Woman who is an all-action heroine in a comic book. At the time comics were considered somewhat low grade by so-called respectable people so the arrival of such a powerful fictional woman in such an unsuitable medium added to her apparent threat to the societal status quo.
Heathcote as Olive is entirely convincing. She is the youngest of the three, who would appear initially to be the most vulnerable, but she has a steely inner core. Hall as Elizabeth has a more complicated role to play as an ambitious academic who has been hampered in her career by regulations that had prevented women from obtaining qualifications by reason of the fact that they were women. There was an anger within her which she has to come to terms with in order to make this triangle viable. It is a very tricky role. Evans looks a perfect clean shaven, strong jawed, straight living alpha male but he is fascinated about the inner desires and needs which humans have in order to satisfy their sexual desires. Evans has a strong physical presence helps him play this far from conventional part.
This is a fascinating story well told by Robinson. It is an important brick in the wall of sexual liberation which was taking place in the Western world in various guises in the twentieth century. It is a story of difference and how society reacts badly so often to such differences. It is a story that is well worth the telling and Robinson gives it the seriousness it deserves.