June Issue 2014

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 10 years ago

With powerhouse performances by Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal and Sandy Dennis, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) is a must watch for all aspiring actors and dramatists.

The story, written by playwright Edward Albee, centres around a bickering middle-aged couple, George (Burton) and Martha (Taylor). They arrive home late one night, drunk, after a university faculty party — George is an assistant professor of History, Martha the daughter of the university head. Martha has invited a handsome, young Biology professor (Segal) and his “mousy” wife (Dennis) over for more drinks, to George’s irritation.

The two keep hurling insults and taking jabs at one another, now in the presence of an ‘audience,’ who look for any excuse to get out of the uncomfortable situation they find themselves in. However, as the night progresses and the drinks keep rolling, they (like the audience) find themselves getting increasingly involved in George and Martha’s toxic affair.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf has two things going for it: The honesty of its script, of an ageing couple in a relationship as bipolar as the writer the film’s title references, and the performances of its lead actors. Taylor, heavier-set and slightly jaded (though only 32 at the time of filming, she was made to appear much older), is still striking to look at. Rarely will one see such raw emotions onscreen, and when keeping in mind Burton and Taylor’s own turbulent relationship — friends would say the two lashed insults at one other almost as foreplay — their fascination with one another and their dependency on alcohol, it just adds another layer of authenticity to the characters.

A case of art imitating life?

This review was originally published in Newsline’s June 2014 issue under the headline, “Love on the Rocks.”

The writer is a journalist and former assistant editor at Newsline.