Being Julia
directed by Istvan Szabo
(Sony, 2004)

When 1930s actress Julia Lambert steps onstage, no one can tear their eyes away from her.

Luckily for the fictional Lambert, she's played in Istvan Szabo's Being Julia by Annette Bening. And who can tear their eyes away from Bening when she's on a roll?

In her Academy Award-nominated turn as Julia, Bening bears the weight of the movie with strength and magnetism. It must have been hard to contain her glee the first time she read through the script. Because here's a role about a woman who thrives in the spotlight -- both in her life as an actress and her life as a woman -- and you probably can count on one hand the scenes without Julia's histronics, her tears, her glee, her giddiness and her manipulation.

It's a gift to Bening, and she delivers.

Julia Langdon is the toast of London. With her producer husband, Michael Gosselyn (Jeremy Irons), they are the leading couple of the legitimate theater. Problem is, Julia is worn out and she's bored. And when a woman like Julia is bored, that's dangerous.

With her primary male escort leaving town -- Julia and Michael have the kind of marriage that affords them "fun on the side," which is why they get along so well, she tells a friend -- Julia's pursued by a naive young American who says things like "swell" and invites her for tea in his garrett.

Julia soon is in love with the boy, who may turn out to be not quite as naive as she believes. And when his affections turn out to be less than monogamous, Julia's faced with the girl at close range. It brings out her fear of aging, her fear of being alone, her rage and the pain of having to live emotions in real life and not on the stage.

She's always been, her son tells her, the kind of person for whom life on the stage is more real than life off it. And, he continues, she's never "off" -- there's an act for him, an act for her husband, an act for the fans.

What Julia does with that knowledge, and the lessons she not only learns but teaches her wayward suitor, his young actress, her son and her husband, are the crux of Being Julia.

Few directors delve so frequently into the psyches of artists as Szabo -- see 2001's Taking Sides, 1991's Meeting Venus or, especially, 1981's Mephisto -- and few are as gifted at adapting material. This time, a script by Ronald Harwood is based on a story by W. Somerset Maugham.

Add in a diva-worthy turn by Bening, and Julia is a movie well worth the spotlight.

by Jen Kopf
31 December 2005

Buy it from