2005-03-11 / Columnists

‘Being Julia’ – Os’scarred

It is hard to not imagine that Annette Bening did not behave much like her character in “Being Julia” when she lost the coveted best actress Oscar for the second time to upstart Hilary Swank.

But, if the two-time loser was in character as 1930’s London-stage diva Julia Lambert, she would have been livid... to say the least. In fact, “Being Julia” has an “All About Eve” plot with young actress Avice (Lucy Punch) trying to steal the spotlight, lover and husband from the elegantly aging Ms. Lambert (Bening). However, unlike the real life Swank Oscar successes, Julia turns the theatrical tables on Avice. But then, Bening had control of the movie, though not of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which has twice diss’ed this diva.

“Being Julia” is a wonderful movie, which should not be missed. Based on the W. Somerset Maugham novella, “Theatre,” it follows the fictional Ms. Lambert’s life through the whirl of her career and spirit after she falls in love with admirer Tom Fennel (Shaun Evans), who is half her age and in debt. Her husband/impresario/business manager/director Michael Gosselyn (Jeremy Irons) has no problem with Julia’s distraction because, as the handsomest man in London, he has his own not-so-secret sex life. It involves Avice, who is also dallying with Tom and angling to co-star with Julia in her next show. Directed by Istvan Szabo, “Being Julia” absorbs you into the theater world of another era, where the ups and downs of Ms. Lambert’s roller-coaster world never fail to impact every performance in the most fascinating ways. This is the role of a lifetime for Bening and she relishes each moment.

Szabo uses a clever device to keep the audience and Julia aware of what’s real and what isn’t. It’s the ghost of her late mentor and first acting coach, delightfully played by Michael Gambon. Using stinging lines from screenwriter Ron Harwood, Gambon’s character provides appropriate critical jabs at Julia to improve her acting in all situations, on and off stage.

“Being Julia” is a great film that hopefully will not be forgotten in the post-Oscar “Million Dollar Baby” boom.

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