Tuesday, June 6, 2017

LIZ SMITH: The Wonder Women

Wonder Women Gal Gadot and Lynda Carter.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

"Wonder Woman" Triumphs.  A New Star, a New Franchise, is Born!  Also, The "wonder women" of "The White Princess." 

“THE day will come when men will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race,” said the famed women’s rights advocate Susan B. Anthony.
WE HAVE yet to see “the highest development of the race” but despite always distressing setbacks, we move on, and Ms. Anthony — who died 14 years before women won the right to vote in 1920 — would surely be encouraged by many of the advances women have made, into the 21st century. 

I thought of Anthony — and others of her strong fiber — as I read the astonishing box-offices grosses on the movie “Wonder Woman.” 

The film — which I have yet to see — has made a genuine movie star out of Gal Godot, who has been toiling for about ten years, and it has elevated director Patty Jenkins into the highest echelon of her field. (Jenkins, best known for the 2003 feature “Monster” which won Charlize Theron an Oscar, is the first woman to direct a comic book super-hero movie.) 
Now, to be sure; a motion picture about an Amazon descended from Greek Gods, who enters the “real” world to fight for justice, is hardly anything merely mortal suffragettes could have imagined as they battled for earthbound, often abused women to simply be treated like first class citizens — like men!   

Still, with mostly rapturous reviews and its great financial success, “Wonder Woman” is a rather significant moment, in pop culture, which like it or not, affects what real women (and impressionable girls) feel about themselves, their place in the world, relationships to men and how to make the most of their intelligence and strength. 
Coming on the heels of the non-mythical triumph of the Women’s March on Washington and the continuing reverberations of that epic event, “Wonder Woman” is something of a fantastical exclamation point.  We are a society now more than ever moved by such things, and a society deeply in need of encouragement to do the right thing, stay strong, stay sane, keep calm and carry on, as our friends in Britain say.
Whereas once — 136 days ago to be exact — I might have seen “Wonder Woman” as just another comic book come to screen life, I give it a greater significance now.  Or would you rather female empowerment and progress be exemplified by Andy Cohen’s “Real Housewives?” Or forget the exhortations of the highest in the land to grab women where they should not be grabbed?

Good, I thought not. I’m looking forward to seeing “Wonder Woman.” Hope I enjoy it.  But even if I don’t, it won’t change what I think it means.  (I also wonder if Gal Gadot — now at least temporarily typecast — can survive such labeling, and become a great star, one whom we can refer to in time, as “GG”?)
SPEAKING OF powerful women — or powerful female actresses to be more accurate — a hearty brava to the Starz limited series “The White Princess” which, after only eight episodes, concluded on Sunday night.

This, like “The White Queen” (also on Starz, several years ago) is based on The Cousins Series of historical novels by Philippa Gregory.  The books and the series’ concern the tumultuous intertwining lives of Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII of England, and Elizabeth Woodville, queen consort to King Edward IV.  Rivalries, monstrous ambition, murder most foul (the two princes in the Tower!) and every other misery and temporary satisfaction to come from the pomp and circumstance of Medieval royalty are unfurled.
Three performances in particular stood out. Essie Davis, as the more-or-less imprisoned Elizabeth Woodville, power-mad, revenge-bent, forever plotting — with a belief in the power of supernatural curses.  I hardly recognized Davis as the impishly seductive Phryne Fisher of “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.” (“Games of Thrones” fans know her as Lady Crane.)
Essie Davis as Elizabeth Woodville in “The White Princess.”
Then there was the intense work of Michelle Fairley as the incredibly ruthless Margaret Beaufort, to whom no crime was too distasteful, so long as she believed she was promoting “God’s will.” Dressed in black, with alarming headdress, she often resembled Disney’s evil queen from “Snow White.” (“Game of Thrones” fans know Fairley as Catelyn Stark. “GOT” is rather like a phantasmagorical “Law & Order”—everybody’s connected to it, somehow.)     
Michelle Fairley as Margaret Beaufort.
But the role and performance that most impressed me was that of Jodie Comer as Elizabeth of York, wife of the wretchedly insecure Henry VII and mother to the notoriously sure-of-himself Henry VIII. As Elizabeth grows closer to the husband she initially did not care to marry, she realizes that despite her gentleness and abhorrence of bloodshed and intrigue, these are necessary tools. Comer’s performance morphs into a magnificently agonized, congealed, acceptance.
Jodie Comer as Elizabeth of York and Jacob Collins-Levy as King Henry.
I won’t spoil — and the series takes some vast liberties with history as we know it — because you can see it all On Demand.  But the slow hardening of Elizabeth of York, as played by Comer, is truly heartbreaking.  (Another wonderful performance, and one which highlights the inevitable transformation of Elizabeth, is Rebecca Benson’s as Margaret Plantagenet.  Her final moments, up against her husband — “I will no longer be biddable!” — and the queen, now her enemy, round out the tragedies.) 
Rebecca Benson as Margaret Plantagenet.
Starz series, which have included “Spartacus,” “Black Sails,” “Dancing on the Edge,” “Pillars of the Earth,” “Outlander,” “Power” “Survivor’s Remorse” and “American Gods” don’t get much — if any! — genuine Emmy Awards love, but they should. 

Oh, “The White Princess,” ended with an enterprising young man named Wolsey being charged with helping to “educate” young Prince Henry.  As we all know, King Henry, would come to use Cardinal Wolsey as a tool to annul his marriage to Catharine of Aragon, to unhappy results.  Rather left it open to another season, I’d say. 
Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey by Sir John Gilbert, 1888.

Contact Liz here.