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BEING JULIA (article first published : 2005-03-21)

All the world is a stage for flamboyant theatre icon Julia Lambert, a dramatic actress passionate about performance, both on and off stage, in Being Julia, a new film by Sunshine director IstvĚn Szab█, based on a Somerset Maugham novella called Theater.

A gay and giddy London of 1938 is the setting for this glossy, engaging tale of lust and infatuation, desire and deceit - and Annette Bening gives an exhilarating performance in the title role of the tough-yet-vulnerable grand dame.

Bening gets to run through the full gamut of emotions in a film which, while satisfying, is not quite up to her level of excellence. It's a showy role that has won her a Golden Globe and had her as a strong favourite to clinch an Oscar.

When we first meet Julia she is down in the dumps, desperate for some spark in her life and most eager for her world-weary impresario husband, Michael Gosselyn (Jeremy Irons), with whom she shares a purely platonic relationship, to cut short the season of her latest West End play.

It's the long-running Farewell My Love, a hit production that reaches its finale with the highly dramatic delivery of the most cheesey of lines:" He was my earth, my moon and all the stars in the firmament." Little wonder Julia's bored with it.

After bulldozing Michael into dropping the curtain on the play, Julia then suddenly has a change of heart and insists it continue its run. Her frown becomes a smile. Her eyes sparkle anew.

It's all due to her dalliances with a fervent admirer, a young and handsome American, a man half her age, called Tom Fennel(Shaun Evans), whom Julia is quick to lead astray. And Tom is a most eager participant. But the days of wine and roses don't last forever - and when Tom makes eyes at a pretty new actress more his age, it makes Julia more than a little upset.

But will this wicked schemer plot revenge? Bruce Greenwood plays a close friend long falsely assumed by all to be Julia's lover and also in the supporting cast is Michael Gambon as Julia's former mentor who, now deceased, constantly appears before her as a voice of conscience, a giver of advice, a critic of her endless "performances".

Also of note is an amusing Miriam Margolyes as Dolly, an ardent admirer and financial contributor to Julia's successes, who seems to appreciate the actress for more than just her acting.

Interestingly, much of the film was shot in Hungary, which reportedly can still be made to look like pre-war London. Rating: 7/10 - Billy Suter




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