Polyamory is not a subject that is often tackled within fiction – much less in a way that portrays such a relationship as a multifaceted romance, rather than voyeuristic soft porn. ‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’, therefore, already excels from the offset purely due to its unique subject matter and the respectful tone in which this is addressed. The semi-biographical story follows American psychologist William Moulton Marston (played by Luke Evans), and his relationships with the two women who inspired his beloved creation: Wonder Woman. It is an exploration of the psychology of domination, submission, and sexual dynamics – but ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ this is not. Instead, ‘Professor Marston’ incorporates psychosexual themes into a fully rounded human story about power, love, and societal pressure to conform. Though the film brims with sexuality, the tastefully directed sex scenes are never exploitative of the queer love which the film represents.
Within popular cinema, it is also rare that representations of romance will choose to focus on the love between two women. ‘Professor Marston’ is additionally refreshing in this context, as it takes less interest in its titular character and instead focuses largely on the wonder women themselves, and this angle is what truly brings the film into its own. The romantic and sexual tension between Marston’s wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and their student Olive (Bella Heathcote) takes a steady build through the first act of the film, to the point where – though I don’t know if this is my blinkered inner lesbian speaking – you cannot take your eyes off the pair when they are together. This trajectory continues throughout the film, as even when their relationship looks settled and stable, sparks will suddenly fly once again, as it is their love for each other which is perhaps the most conflicted within the trio. Elizabeth struggles to balance her role as a strong, independent radical and a logical need to be cautious of the devastation that could occur if their secret is discovered; this constant weight is a frequent challenge for the trio to overcome. Olive, on the other hand, experiences the opposite, beginning the story as a meek yet beautiful student, and discovering her sexual desires through the Marstons as the film goes on.
Rebecca Hall is given the meatiest of the main roles, and she really succeeds, stealing every scene she is in and embodying a woman who is equally bitchy, dryly funny, and intensely loving. Elizabeth is every young sapphic woman’s dream: an intelligent, witty radical feminist professor, and Olive’s developing feelings for her are amusingly relatable through a sapphic lens. Bella Heathcote portrays Olive’s curiosity with a wide-eyed innocence, and her burgeoning radicalism with an unexpected yet fiery strength. Their initially opposing characteristics create a dynamic that is everchanging, and the multi-layered elements of both women ensures a romance that never falters in its intensity, nor its humanism. Luke Evans is also great as the titular character, exuding a quiet confidence that ensures constant likeability, even in a film so concerned with the inherent power dynamics between the sexes. Marston is every part the equal of Elizabeth and Olive within their three-way love story, and his respect and consideration for the pair is heart-warming to see on screen.
Marston’s story, however, is perhaps the least interesting, despite its framing of the whole film – whilst the development of the wonder woman character is no doubt an important part of historical feminist media, the film can only really skim the surface due to the limits of its runtime. Hence, the wonder woman background provided here will be satisfying to very few; for hardcore fans, there is simply not enough, and for those with limited knowledge of the iconic superhero, the little information provided is unlikely to inform nor inspire interest. The true story here belongs to the wonder women themselves – Elizabeth and Olive – and their complex and radical relationships, both with each other, and with Marston.
Regardless, it is clear from the film that director Angela Robinson is an underrated talent. I’ve previously recommended her spy parody D.E.B.S, and this film is not only a technical improvement on the former, but also a demonstration of the range of her abilities, from comedy to intense drama. I, and I hope the film world also, am incredibly excited to see where she goes next, and I especially encourage people to go to see ‘Professor Marston’ if they are able to. Great queer cinema thrives only if an audience allows it to, and this is an example of a highly enjoyable, sensitively portrayed, romantic drama that seriously deserves more attention.
‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’ is out now in the US, and will be released in the UK on the 10th November 2017. Feel free to tweet @muchadocinema with any thoughts or comment below! You can read the rest of our London Film Festival coverage here.