VOD film review: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
James R | On 08, Apr 2018
Director: Angela Robinson
Cast: Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote
Watch Professor Marston and the Wonder Women online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Sky Store / Google Play
The comic book world is full of origins stories that all follow the same broad formula, but even if you’ve seen Wonder Woman, the subject of Professor Marston, you’ve never seen a superhero origin story like this.
The drama tells the story of William Marston (Luke Evans), the psychologist who created the shield-wielding warrior maiden, who recently jumped from page to screen in 2017’s uplifting blockbuster. He’s inspired, we learn, from two wonderful women: his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), a fellow professor, and Olive (Bella Heathcote), a pupil and assistant. Director Angela Robinson shoots it all with a familiar period sheen, all polite hues and prim and proper tweed, but things soon escalate into something more colourful.
Elizabeth is played with superb resilience and smarts by the always-brilliant Rebecca Hall (fresh from her turn in the powerful Christine), and her frustration at the male-driven academic world is easy to see as an inspiration for the fierce, independent, strong-willed Wonder Woman. But if the idea of a famous man’s spouse influencing his work sounds a bit The Theory of Everything, prepare to have your presumptions thwarted. Marston, we learn, is not only in awe of his wife’s brains and brilliant drive, but also in awe of the idea of power itself: he forms a simple theory that all of our relationships are about balancing dominance, and finding a kind authority we can submit, and be compliant, to.
It’s a kinky view of the world and Robinson’s script dives right into it with boots on. The introduction of Olive sends the whole movie spiralling into a struggle for control; Olive’s willingness to take part in their studies makes her both their sidekick and someone they depend upon, a push-and-pull for superiority that sends sparks flying. You might expect some friction in the Marston’s marriage, but this is more complicated than that; the interactions between Hall and Heathcote leave you wondering who’s the one seducing whom.
The cast make for an intriguing trio, with Evans (who stole the show as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast) brooding and straight-faced, grounding a story that could reduce many audiences to titters. Robinson, though, doesn’t take things too seriously, and seeing her protagonists dance around each other is frequently funny, as they fly in the face of what the 1940s deemed to be appropriate behaviour.
And what of Wonder Woman? All of Marston’s obsessions spill out onto the page, from the Amazonian’s costume to her use of the truth-telling lasso, which the movie purports has its roots in the vigorous lie-detecting tests Elizabeth gives her husband late in the evenings. It’s all dramatised for the screen, of course, and the family have contested this account of events, but the undercurrent appears to be present in the comics, frames of which pop up on screen – and alarm the Child Study Association of America, who order Marston to tone it down. He, of course, redoubles his naughtiness, an approach that you sense this movie would approve of. Eyebrow-raising, expertly acted and archly self-aware, this is a complex, kinky and enjoyably provocative drama.