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New Release Review - PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN

PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN review
The story of Wonder Woman creator William Marston, his wife Elizabeth and their lover Olive Byrne.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Angela Robinson

Starring: Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Connie Britton, Oliver Platt

PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN uk poster


Wonder Woman has proved to be 2017's surprise blockbuster hit, beaten only by Beauty and the Beast, at least until this year's Star Wars installment arrives in December. I say surprise, but the only people shocked at its success seem to be the Hollywood execs who hummed and hawed for so long over greenlighting a big-budget female led superhero movie. Anyone who was ever a teenage boy could have confirmed the appeal of an action adventure headlined by a supermodel in hot-pants. On the back of Wonder Woman's success, what better time for a biopic of its creator?

The life of a comic book creator may not initially seem like the most exciting subject matter for a biopic, but William Moulton Marston lived quite the life. In writer-director Angela Robinson's Professor Moulton and the Wonder Women, the titular egghead is essayed by Luke Evans. We meet William first in the 1940s, witnessing an angry mob fuelling a bonfire with copies of comics featuring his creation. Then it's into the film's framing device, a feisty confrontation between William and Josette Frank (Connie Britton), a representative of the Child Study Association of America, one of many organisations that have taken umbrage to his comic's thinly veiled depiction of bondage, S&M and dom/sub relationships - with all this on offer, why would anyone be reading Superman?

PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN

The film's extended flashback structure takes us back to the '20s, where William is a psychology professor at Harvard. Together with his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), the pair are invested heavily in researching a new device - the lie detector. William and Elizabeth hire young student Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) to help them with their experiments, and it's not long before romantic and lustful longings begin to infiltrate the trio's professional arrangement.

It's this first half, which concentrates on the developing relationship between William, Elizabeth and Olive, that provides the film's strongest material. As you might expect, the real life trio weren't blessed with the celebrity looks of the three actors portraying them here, but the film is explicit in pointing out that the attraction shared by all parties was deeper than the physical.

The movie's standout sequence recalls the famous blood test scene from John Carpenter's The Thing, as having gotten the lie detector to finally work correctly, William, Elizabeth and Olive take turns being questioned over their mutual longings, the machine confirming that it is indeed possible to have romantic feelings for more than one person. Adopting a 'Who are we to argue with science?' attitude, the trio given in to their urges, and a long and loving relationship begins.

PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN

It's in the second half, which focusses on William's creation of Wonder Woman, that Robinson's film is less successful. We don't learn a whole lot about the birth of the comic, other than the heroine's look was inspired by a trip to an underground fetish club at which Olive donned a tiara, corset and thigh boots, and that William's original title was the clunky 'Suprema the Wonder Woman'.

Aside from a brief altercation with a neighbour, the film is reluctant to depict the difficulty its central trio must have faced in living the life they wanted. It's impossible to imagine the society of today accepting such an arrangement, never mind that of the '40s, but William, Elizabeth and Olive seem to pull it off with very little judgement or interference from outsiders.

PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN

That said, for all the film's depiction of William as a victim of societal prejudice, the idea of children being exposed to sexualised material in a comic book is something that would trouble a modern liberal just as much as a mid 20th century conservative. Similarly, the manner in which the young Olive - an orphan susceptible to the attention of parental figures - is initially taken under the predatory wings of William and Elizabeth won't play well to many viewers.

Whether you approve of the relationship depicted in Robinson's film or not, it's undeniable that all three consenting adults were genuinely in love. That alone is worth celebrating, but Robinson seems more interested in this aspect of the film than any of the cultural or scientific achievements of the people involved. Ultimately, it's another biopic that plays like a trailer for a visit to wikipedia.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is in UK/ROI cinemas November 10th.



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