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Being Julia
2004 - R - 105 Mins.
Director: István Szabó
Producer: Robert Lantos
Written By: W. Sommerset Maugham, Ronald Harwood
Starring: Annette Bening, Jeremy Irons, Shaun Evans, Bruce Greenwood, Sheila McCarthy, Tom Sturridge
Review by: Harrison Cheung
Official Site: www.sonyclassics.com/beingjulia
   
Based on the novel, ‘Theatre,’ by W. Somerset Maugham, ‘Being Julia’s’ lone Oscar nomination is for Best Actress thanks to a brilliant performance by Annette Bening. A few years ago, a period drama like ‘Being Julia’ with its luscious cinematography and witty dialogue would have swept the Oscar nominations – particularly when Oscar was very much in love with English dramas. But Bening’s performance alone is enough to treasure this film on the big screen or on DVD.

Directed by István Szabó – whose previous film was the depressing Hungarian epic, ‘Sunshine’ with Ralph Fiennes – ‘Being Julia’ is a sizzling little comedy set in the West End of London in the 1930s. Bening stars as Julia Lambert, the sharp-tongued star of the London theatre. But at the age of 45, she’s beginning to feel tired and old. Her husband/manager, Michael (Jeremy Irons), pleads with her to stay with the run of her current hit play but she’s ready for a vacation.

Suddenly, a handsome young American enters their lives. Beginning as a fan, Tom (Shaun Evans) becomes Michael and Julia’s accountant and eventually Julia’s lover. Their affair re-ignites her passion for life and the stage. However, Tom has his own agenda as he clumsily tries to use his charms to influence Julia’s professional life. But Julia isn’t a naïve young girl. And as Julia maintains throughout the film, she never lets her personal life interfere with her work.

With a twinkle in her eyes that’s both seductive and charming, Bening’s Julia is a dowager queen of the London stage – a woman at the top of her game and not about to retire quietly. Her affair with Tom, a man half her age, amuses and delights her, and her pleasure is palpable from scene to scene. The real comedy in this film is how the younger people think that they’re taking advantage of the old lions when they’re unknowingly about to become fodder. ‘Being Julia’ is reminiscent of the Bette Davis classic – ‘All About Eve’ – with the tables cleverly turned.

Though Bening is practically in ever shot, she is surrounded by a wonderful cast, which includes Michael Gambon (as the ghost of Julia’s acting coach), Bruce Greenwood (Julia’s best friend), Sheila McCarthy, and Tom Sturridge (as Julia’s son). Of course, as Tom, the charming young American, Shaun Evans has a juicy and effective role as he moves from bumbling admirer to would-be gold digger.

The film builds to a memorable climax on stage – a battle of acting skills – that is every much as lethal and as entertaining as any scene from ‘The House of Flying Daggers.’ To say any more would spoil the film, but it’s enough to say that ‘Being Julia’ is a wonderful film – for writers, actors and anyone who enjoys an old fashion battle of the wits.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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