Starring: Annette Bening, Shaun Evans, Jeremy Irons, Juliette Stevenson, Miriam Margolyes, Bruce Greenwood, Tom Sturridge, Lucy Punch
Rated R for Some Sexuality
Note: This review contains some rather vague spoilers. Reading the review won’t damage your enjoyment of the film, but I’m putting it out there nonetheless.
Many consider “All About Eve” to be the ultimate movie about the theater. I do not. I didn't think it was that great of a movie, and frankly, kind of boring. For me, that honor goes to “Mrs. Henderson Presents.” “Being Julia” isn’t as delightful or charming, but it’s entertaining, plus it contains Annette Bening’s best performance.
Julia Lambert (Bening) is a legendary actress in pre-WWII London. She’s married to Michael Gosselyn (Irons), who handles the business side of things. But she’s bored and exhausted with her life and wants to cancel the show that she’s doing. That changes when Michael introduces her to a young American named Tom Fennel (Evans), who is a huge fan of hers. She becomes hopelessly infatuated with him, and they begin an affair, which makes her love life again. But when another woman comes along, she has a perfectly malevolent plan for revenge.
To me, Annette Bening has always been talented, but never truly wowed me. That’s changed here. The role of Julia is a difficult one; there’s a little bit of Norma Desmond in her in the sense that she’s always giving a performance (only Julia is perfectly lucid). Bening handles it beautifully. Her co-star, Shaun Evans, isn’t as good. He’s adequate, but can’t match his older co-star. It’s only Bening that makes their relationship, which is rather shortchanged, work. Jeremy Irons is in top form as Michael, who doesn't mind her affair as long as it makes her performances better. Special mention has to go to Bruce Greenwood, the long-time character actor who was at one point a favorite of Atom Egoyan. His character is almost superfluous, but it’s a good performance (and he sports a flawless British accent).
The film’s flaws mainly have to do with the script. The first act is too long, and director Istvan Szabo should have pared it down about 10 minutes. And Julia’s revenge scheme lacks a big punch because of how it is written. One thing that is interesting is that the script has Julia talk to her old drama teacher, Jimmie Langton (Gambon), who has been dead for years. This kind of thing is difficult to pull off well (“Hitchcock” comes to mind), and the results in “Being Julia” are inconsistent. While it becomes somewhat essential in the second act, it’s an impediment in the first. That said, Michael Gambon is one of those rare actors who it is always a pleasure to see on screen.
“Being Julia” was never going to be a movie that had a wide audience. But for those who like good acting and movies about the theater, “Being Julia” represents solid entertainment.