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Being Julia (2004)

Directed by:

István Szabó

Rating: 5/10

Running Time: 105 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 12a

Country: Canada, Hungary, United Kingdom, United States

Should an actress merit an Oscar for managing to conjure up a memorable performance in a forgettable film? If so, hand Annette Bening the gong right now, because that’s exactly what she does as the mood swing-suffering title character in 30s-set period drama ‘Being Julia’.

Who’s Julia, I hear you ask? Well, she’s the top lady-thesp of her day, renowned all over London and beyond for her crowd-pleasing performances in hit play after hit play. The people love her, and so too does hubby Michael (Jeremy Irons). Well, to be more precise, what Michael REALLY loves is the reams of cash she brings in. The pair of them are, after all, completely loaded.

The only person who doesn’t appear to be entirely happy with life is Julia herself – which is probably why she jumps at the chance of a bit of nooky when Tom (Shaun Evans) turns up. Tom is handsome, American, and half her age. But what happens when their torrid affair goes off the boil and Tom finds himself a younger model? And, for that matter, what happens when the younger model in question also takes a bit of a fancy to other-half Michael? Our woman scorned decides to get her revenge, that’s what.

It’s a watchable enough story, but not exactly based around the most riveting of scenarios. Adapted from the novel ‘Theatre’ by W. Somerset Maugham, the tone flits between light comedy and melodrama, making for an uneven viewing experience. And then there’s Julia herself. The film as a whole can’t seem to make up its mind whether it wants us to like her or not. She’s the champion and star of the tale, but flying in the face of all that is the fact that she’s just not a particularly nice person. It meant that, come the end of the film, I still didn’t know whether to root for her simply carry on viewing her as a self-centred sod who can dish it out, but can’t take it. After all, can you really feel sorry for a woman whose husband cheats on her, when she’s clearly just as bad herself?

So, with all that in mind, it’s to Bening’s immense credit that she doesn’t just pull it off – she positively shines. So confusing and impossible to empathise with is her character, that her polished realisation of the role has to go down as one of the acting achievements of the year.

It's Got: Michael Gambon appearing in his NINTH project of the last two years. Slow down, man!

It Needs: The efforts of the screenwriter to have matched up to those of the leading lady.

Summary

Hats off to Annette Bening for a remarkable performance in an unremarkable movie.

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