Being Julia (2004)

“If your public could only hear your language.”

Set in London in 1938, aging British stage actress Julia Lambert (Annette Bening) dominates the lives of those who surround her. Servants, fans and long suffering husband Michael Gosselyn (Jeremy Irons) have all learned to obey Julia’s demands. Julia, ever the consummate actress, is prepared to stage scenes, if necessary, to get her way. Even her close friend, Lord Charles (Bruce Greenwood) senses that he’s getting a performance from Julia when she turns on the tears in order to stop him from ending their relationship. Claiming to be too exhausted to continue acting in a highly successful play, Julia demands a holiday. Just as Julia’s command is about to be obeyed, she begins an affair with a young, unpleasant American fan, Tom Fennel (Shaun Evans). At first the relationship gives Julia new energy, and she imagines that she can continue to play 25 year olds for another 15 years.

Julia’s troubles begin when Tom shows interest in a newcomer, blonde actress Avice Crichton (Lucy Punch). If that isn’t humiliation enough, both Tom and Michael want Avice in the new play. Will Julia accept her new diminishing role, or will she fight? The first few scenes present Julia as the sort of person who’s never pushed around, so we expect Julia to eventually prevail against Avice. Julia’s personality may be predictable, but she’s often hard to read due to her acting abilities. It’s impossible to tell when Julia is acting for the benefit of others or when she’s being sincere. Even her son expresses frustration at the fact that Julia is always acting a role. He tells her “you have a performance for everyone,” and notes that Julia even uses some of the same phrases in real life that she uses on stage. The idea that one can never really tell whether or not Julia is sincere, or just acting, is one of the most dominant and successful ideas in the film. When Julia’s son tells her that he suspects that she doesn’t really even exist, it’s clear that Julia really is a composite of all of her most successful roles. Indeed there are several scenes when Julia images her now deceased acting coach Jimmie Langton (Michael Gambon) as he praises various face-saving or strategic performances Julia conducts.

Julia dominates the screen, but unfortunately, the others characters are crowded out as a result. All the other characters revolve around Julia, and they basically act as foils for her talent and wit. Still, Being Julia is entertaining, and Bening delivers a great performance. The film is based on the novel, Theatre by W. Somerset Maugham. From director Istvan Szabo.

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