Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a genteel look at the ménage à trois behind the creation of iconic feminist superhero Wonder Woman. Its direction fittingly boasts a decidedly feminine touch.
Truth is stranger than fiction in this origin story outside the norm. Harvard psychologist and inventor Dr William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) was the man responsible for inventing Wonder Woman. Marston’s groundbreaking character was pilloried by censors for its sexual frankness. But he was living a secret life that was equally controversial.
His inspiration for Wonder Woman was his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston (Rebecca Hall) and their mutual lover, Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote). These empowered women defied social conventions. And together they helped Marston advance his behavioural research.
Writer and director Angela Robinson’s film is nothing if not illuminating. It’s a tale of invention, perseverance and courage against the forces of oppression. If the expression “behind every great man stands a great woman” rings true, Marston had the good fortune to have double the incentive. In addition to helping him perfect the lie detector test, the women aided him in his forward-thinking human research studies and provided the impetus for Wonder Woman.
Robinson has created a picture of three unlikely rebels who dared not only to love each other, but form a family together. There was however a price to pay for the family’s unconventional ideas.
The script initially focuses on Marston, before shifting to his wife and finally to Olive, the object of their desire. The film however has a soft porn feel to it. Considering its subjects are relationships and sexuality, I found it decidedly odd that all genitalia remained covered up throughout. In other words, it was remarkably modest.
Rebecca Hall was undoubtedly the best thing about the picture. Her pointed remarks and frank characterisation are a driving force in the film. Bella Heathcote portrays Olive as a woman of rare beauty. Luke Evans plays Marston like the cat that got the cream, being able to enjoy the brainpower and intimate relations with two attractive and motivated women. I couldn’t help thinking about Aussie actor Jack Thompson, who in his heyday had a relationship with sisters.
The lesbian theme that runs in parallel with the central relationship was not played up anywhere near as much as it could have been. The essence of the picture is curiosity and taboo. But what we get is surprisingly safe … not at all edgy. So, while Professor Marston and the Wonder Women held my interest, it could have been made with considerably more bite. This is where Angela Robinson has wimped it.
Director: Angela Robinson
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Luke Evans, Bella Heathcote
Release Date: 9 November 2017
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television