October 23, 2017

SCREEN | 'Professor Marston and the Wonder Women' Teases

"She believes in free love."
Rebecca Hall Bella Heathcote Angela Robinson | Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Writer/director Angela Robinson dramatizes (and highly fictionalizes) the kinky and progressive story behind Wonder Woman creator Dr. William Moulton Marston and the major roles and influences two important women made in his life. Robinson uses the infamous, somewhat real-life, account of polyamory to express progressive ideals of female empowerment and sexuality in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.

Luke Evans stars as Harvard professor Martson, Rebecca Hall as his wife and equal, Elizabeth, and Bella Heathcote as their shared lover and former student, Olive, the third element of their polyamorous relationship. Hall, the clear highlight, is wondrous in her fiery directness establishing her high credentials alongside her accomplished husband. She's frustrated by the limitations society puts on her ambitions.

Heathcote is wide-eyed but captivating in her innocent but dynamic performance. She could easily be this na├»ve flower coerced into radical feminism and polyamory, but she bursts with a feeling of wanting more and progressive politics. Evans grounds the film and wisely lets his female co-stars shine in a time (the 1930s) when women weren't allowed to do so.

Luke Evans Rebecca Hall Bella Heathcote Angela Robinson | Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Familiar elements of the biopic including flashbacks and narrative devices frame the neat little film as Robinson purposely uses convention to tell such an unconventional story of romance through studies of human behaviour and psychological analysis including the Marstons' theory of domination, inducement, submission, and compliance (DISC theory).

Like the original Wonder Woman comic that uses cartoon art to explore feminist ideology, lesbian imagery, and sexual bondage, Professor Marston uses film narrative to normalize open relationships and queer sexuality. The characters, relationships, and role playing are superbly established yet feel tame and all so standard in the full context of the straightforward storytelling. It's both just in nonchalantly telling these at the time radical ideas while also simultaneously downplaying their cultural significance somewhat.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a progressive historical celebration of atypical relationships and feminist ideologies. It subversively explores kink and BDSM imagery almost cavalierly but it's hard to get over how completely ordinary it dramatizes the crazy real-life story behind the icon. Despite the groundbreaking subject matter and wondrous performances, it feels just so safe and not nearly as iconic as the fictional character itself.

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