Luke Evans Rebecca Hall Bella Heath Connie Britton J. J. Field
Professor William Moulton Marston was an unusual figure in the 1930’s; he was a psychologist, inventor (one product being the forerunner of the current lie detector test), author of books on psychology, and a comic book writer. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard, earning a B.A., L.L.B., and Ph.D., then went on to further his education at American University, Tufts, and Universal Studios in California. The fact that he created the super-hero(ine) Wonder Woman may seem odd, but she is based on his belief in the moral superiority of women, given that men (as he saw it) are more anarchic and violent. To him, peace in the world rested on the leadership of women whose allure of love would lead men into submission to loving authority. He said, “The only hope for civilization is the greater freedom, development and equality of women in all fields of human activity…Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world” (Jill Lepore, “The Last Amazon: Wonder Woman Returns”, The New Yorker, 9/22/14). Bravo!
Marston (played by Evans) was significantly influenced by the principles of the suffragette movement at the time and by his wife, Elizabeth (Hall), and Olive Byrne (Heath), a niece of the suffragette Margaret Sanger. Elizabeth is very frustrated, because she is not given tenure at Mt. Holyoke (sister school of male only Harvard), simply because she is female. When Olive comes to work in the Marston’s laboratory, it is apparent that Marston is attracted to her as well as to his wife, and although Elizabeth is ambivalent at first, they eventually enter into a three-way personal relationship.
The film focuses primarily on this period of time, with the three main characters working through the complex arrangement. Although some actual biographical elements are included—such as Marston’s dismissal from academic appointments, encouraging him to pursue comics with Universal Studios—and Elizabeth supporting the family financially, while Olive becomes their four children’s caretaker, we see mostly the relationships among the three main characters.
Cuts are frequently made of Marston facing some kind of “decency committee” headed by a children’s author, Josette Frank (played by Connie Brittain), who is inserted into the drama by the filmmakers to represent those who objected vociferously to aspects of the Wonder Woman image—bondage, sexual allure, attire, large breasts, etc. These sessions are extremely frustrating for Marston who uses reason and logic that don’t come through to a religious woman with fundamental beliefs. She was not alone, however, in that society in general forced the trio to keep their true relationships quiet.
This would be my primary criticism of the film—too much of a focus on sexual nonconformity with less emphasis on the production of the Wonder Woman comic books and Marston’s work with Max Gaines and his two companies that would eventually merge to form DC Comics. On its fiftieth anniversary, DC Comics named Marston one of the Fifty Who Made DC Great. This would have been much more interesting to me than so much emphasis on unconventional relationships that should remain personal. It was gratifying, however, to see how the arrangements among the three were discussed beforehand, with all three voicing their opinions.
Luke Evans embodies the complexities of the Marston personality very well, and the two women are a match for him in this regard, especially Rebecca Hall. She keeps the dialog interesting with her ideas and snappy with her humor.
An unconventional background story showing how the superheroine Wonder Woman was carefully considered and based on sound principles.