Timing is everything. With the blockbuster success of this summer’s Wonder Woman plus a resurgence of interest in the female comic book icon, it looks like now is the perfect moment for an origin tale of where Wonder Woman came from. But as I say in my video review of Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (click the link above to watch), it might not be what you think. In fact, no one could have guessed that the genesis of this comic book, which first appeared in the 1940s, came directly out of a sexually shocking (at the time) polyamorous relationship between William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and their lover Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote).
As their unusual three-way union started including bondage, whips and ropes, parts of what would become Wonder Woman started to emerge. The film spans a time period from the ’20s to the ’40s with Marston, a Harvard University professor who worked on studies of human behavior with his wife that also led to the invention of the lie detector. Into their circle came Olive, a 22-year-old assistant who gets more than she bargained for when both sides of this pair become attracted to her. It all leads to an open relationship that eventually involved kinky sexual acts and a shockingly unconventional living relationship right in the middle of suburbia. Complications arise, especially when all their various kids enter the picture, but Marston is determined as he is a strong believer in the idea that women are dominant.
Without giving too much away, this trio’s relationship goes on for decades, but it is the act of watching it evolve and usurp puritanical attitudes to triumph in so many ways that makes this fascinating biopic work as well as it does, often with lots of black humor. Along the way Marston gets inspired to create what would become Wonder Woman, and a lot of the film’s fun is seeing the slow emergence of the character as reflected in his own relationship with these two women, both wonders on their own. They become his muse, in a way — certainly his inspiration.
Evans (Beauty and the Beast’s Gaston) is the perfect center of this trio, completely believable as a smart professor, inventor and comic book pioneer who becomes a champion for feminists in the most unexpected way by creating a hero for them that lives on to this day. Heathcote is lovely as Olive, a screen natural. Hall simply is great as Elizabeth, a brilliant woman with complicated feelings when she suddenly finds herself caught up in something that has her emotions battling with her intellect. She says more with simple facial expressions than a thousand words of dialogue ever could. Connie Britton turns up as an uptight woman working for a Child Study organization who is pretty much horrified by the sexual elements Marston brought to a kids comic book. The film begins with her stern interview with him and then goes into flashbacks. It is perfectly appropriate that this was written and directed by a woman, the talented Angela Robinson, who manages to get the tone between comedy and drama just right throughout. Considering its low budget, the film looks terrific. Producers are Terry Leonard and Amy Redford. Annapurna opens it wide today.
Do you plan to see Professor Marston and the Wonder Women? Let us know what you think.