Bening the Bonus in Beleaguered British Stage Comedy

Article excerpt

Byline: Dann Gire Daily Herald Film Critic

"Being Julia"

1/2 out of four

Opens today

Starring As

Annette Bening Julia Lambert

Jeremy Irons Michael Gosselyn

Shaun Evans Tom Fennel

Juliet Stevenson Evie

Michael Gambon Jimmie Langton

Miriam Margolyes Dolly de Vries

Written by Ronald Harwood; based on the W. Somerset Maugham novel "Theater." Produced by Robert Lantos. Directed by Istvan Szabo. A Sony Classics Pictures release. At the Century Centre Cinema in Chicago and Renaissance Place in Highland Park. Rated R (sexual situations). Running time: 104 minutes.

"Being Julia" purports to be based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, "Theater."

I think it was really based on a bumper sticker I once read: "Middle age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill." Or something like that.

Annette Bening, one of Hollywood's most underutilized natural resources, elevates this pedestrian period comedy to sublime bliss when, after enduring two acts of banal set-ups, she comes out fighting with fangs bared and claws at full alert.

Bening plays the title character, Julia Lambert, the toast of London theater during the 1930s. She had been getting along in years, of course, but her impresario husband (Jeremy Irons), a former handsome leading man in his day, has made sure that even though he has failed to attend to their marriage, he attempts to keep her career alive and prosperous. At least for himself.

It doesn't take long to figure out Julia's not-so-secret secret. She manipulates everyone around her. Worse, everything she says has been written by a playwright at some time or another for a role.

Then, it doesn't take long to see that everyone around Julia, including her friends and husband, are merely using her as she has attempted to use them. …