Friday, 24 June 2016

I've Just Seen: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Director: Mike Nichols

Oddly enough, the film that I thought of when contemplating Virginia Woolf was The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with Nick and Honey acting as Brad and Janet who get drawn into the weird, hilarious and sadistic world of George and Martha (and their engimatic offspring). I also thought of that other boozey couple Nick and Nora Charles, who simiarly baffle onlookers with their games with one another. The big difference is that the Charles' clearly adore each other, while George and Martha have a much more complex relationship.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are brilliant as Martha and George, and I cannot imagine anyone else playing them. Wikipedia says that Bette Davis and James Mason were seriously considered at one point, and while that version would have been very interesting to see, the chemistry between the actually married Burtons brings something extra to the material. At once we can see why they got married, while they are still together (just), and why they constantly play awful games. There is a moment early on, when its just the two of them, where they end up giggling together on their bed, and a look passes between them, full of intimacy and affection. Martha moves to kiss George, who says no, and it feels like that is the catalyst for the night's escalating war.

Haskell Wexler's cinematography is gorgeous, taking a script that could have been very stagey, and giving it a cinematic quality, with its stark black-and-white lighting, and swinging close-ups on the actors' faces. Two-shots are given dimension, with one actor often closer to the camera than the other, removing them from each other's eyes. The score is also wonderful, melancholic and almost tired, acting as a soothing balm over the violence and fury of the characters.

Clearly I think this is a wonderful film, and it has sparked a great interest in me about the life of Elizabeth Taylor, and obviously, her relationship with Burton. They were never better than in this film, and both should have won the acting Oscars for 1966 (only Taylor won).


  1. They did deserve Oscars, both of them. This movie is all about acting and script and All four of them act the best they ever did.

    1. Completely agree! I love this film, it is an acting masterclass, and much funnier than it should be.