An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


      Annette Bening draws the eyes of the audience whether she is alone on screen or in the midst of a formidable cast.  In “Being Julia,” hers is a mesmerizing performance in an otherwise ordinary film based on Somerset Maughm’s novella, “Theater.”  Maughm’s women need strong actresses, and “Being Julia” has Annette Bening whose every movement and expression mean something.  The result is that we can’t look away even for a moment.

     It is London , 1938, and Julia Lambert (Ms. Bening) has begun to realize she has passed the peak of her legendary career as a British actress.  She has begun to age, and the parts coming her way are weighted with monotony.  Her husband, Michael (Jeremy Irons) produces her plays, manages her career, and finances it with the help of his money partner, Dolly (Miriam Margolyes).  It doesn’t matter whether a firecracker goes off in Julia’s real or stage life, but it better go off in one or the other.  She’s beautiful, gifted, and bored. 

     In the affair that could have made the movie sing, Michael introduces his wife to a young – a very young- American named Michael (Shaun Evans).  The two have an affair that provides the excitement Julia needs, but unfortunately, it stops the audience dead as it follows the volatile actress in her adventure. Tom is not just a younger lover; that would be fine; but he is a jerk, a puppy slobbering his admiration for Julia.  Not once in this badly played role does actor Shaun Evans manage to ignite screen sparks with Ms. Bening.  He is a juvenile to her theatrical siren, and when he steps from her arms into betrayal with another woman, it carries no dramatic weight.  No one is surprised because no one can expect anything of this strangely uninteresting man.

     Bening’s Julia, on the other hand is clever enough to fool her real life audience as well as the one in the theater.  No one knows when she is pretending.  Neither do I, neither will you.  When Tom leaves her for Avice Creighton (Lucy Punch), Julia plans a cunning vengeance.  “My vanity was more wounded than my heart,” she says.  Once again though, the dramatic pace melts at its highest point when the camera shifts to Shaun Evans’ Tom for his reaction.  The actor can do nothing with his moment.

         Jeremy Irons’ Michael is a marvelous portrait of the handsome, accomplished husband of a volcano.  Juliet Stevenson is immensely appealing as Evie, a loyal assistant to Julia with a mind of her own.  But it is Tom Sturridge as Julia’s son Roger who creates a young man who is sweetly human.  He is kind, honest, loves his mother, and is believable for every minute of his performance. At last we are moved deeply when Julia responds to her fine son with genuine love and respect.  It is Roger who says to his mother, “You have a performance for everyone.”  He’s right; she does, and each one is dazzling. 


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