Scientist Marie Curie: Marie Curie 1943 Adapted from the biography by Eve Curie. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Poor, Polish/French Sorbonne student Marie Slodowska (Greer Garson), a bright light in her studies, is favored by sympathetic Professor Perot (Albert Bassermann). He recommends her for a project and introduces her to physicist Pierre Curie (Walter Pigeon) who agrees to sharing lab space before he knows she’s a woman. Both are shy, driven, and uninterested in a relationship. Marie’s intention is to return to Poland and teach after graduation.
Over time the young woman’s demeanor, discipline, and intelligent conversation make her appealing to Curie. He’s as distressed that she’s leaving as he is that she’s giving up science. Marie agrees to a chaste weekend at his parents’ country house where he awkwardly proposes. They return to work in a cold, leaking, dilapidated lab space (The University of Paris had no vision) jointly pursuing the isolation of a new element she calls radium. Both the way Marie intuits its existence and the lengthy, frustrating, all consuming process to reveal the new element make sense.
Love for/commitment to one another is palpable. These are fine actors. Joy and suffering are credible. The plot omits Marie’s family in Paris which makes no difference to the film. This is the fourth of nine onscreen pairings between Pidgeon and Garson. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Radioactive 2020 Directed by Marjane Satrapi A completely different portrait of Marie Curie than the film above. See Charlene Giannetti’s review here.
The Edith Beales: Grey Gardens 1976 Documentary. Directed by Albert and David Maysles. The aunt and first cousin of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis lived hand to mouth for almost fifty years in what became a filthy, bug infested, ramshackle house occupied by animals and without running water. Health Department officials repeatedly threatened eviction and/or razing of the premises. After several magazine articles, Onassis and her sister Lee Radziwill provided sufficient funds to bring the house up to code.
When Radziwill suggested the Maysles might want to do a documentary on her life, she took them to meet the (far more interesting) Beales. The brothers changed direction and Radziwill withdrew funding. Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale “Big Edie” (1895-1977) and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale “Little Edie” (1917-2002) speak candidly to the camera about past and present. Neither are conventional. We see the house and grounds in full florid detail. The house was called Grey Gardens because of the color of the dunes, cement garden walls, and the sea mist.
In 1979, “Little Edie” sold the house to Sally Quinn and husband, then Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee, who restored the structure and its grounds. (The sale agreement forbade razing the house.) The couple lived at Grey Gardens for 35 years until Bradlee’s death in 2014. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Callas Forever 2005 Directed by Franco Zefferelli. With her best vocal days behind her (at 53!), Maria Callas (Fanny Ardant) has withdrawn to her Paris apartment. At night, she plays her recordings, lip syncs and cries. Friend and former producer Larry Kelly (Jeremy Irons with a pony tail) has a proposal. He wants to film Georges Bizet’s Carmen, an opera Callas recorded but never appeared in, using the still beautiful diva and a recording of her voice from the 1950s. His intention is to film all her starring roles. Also concerned is friend/ journalist Sarah Keller (Joan Plowright).
At first, Callas is dismissive, but encouraged by both intimates, she tests the process and becomes enthusiastic. They begin. The production looks wonderful. Her acting is marvelous. She works hard. When she and Larry incidentally go out, people admire and defer to her. Callas comes back to life. Her character, by turn imperious and despairing, is well drawn and well played. We get a glimpse of her past. Larry’s privileged life also has its price. Investors are happy with the end result, but…An intriguing premise. Callas died in her 53rd year. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Dian Fossey: Gorillas in the Mist 1988 The true story of Fossey’s work with mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Directed by Michael Apted. Inspired by paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey (Ian Cuthbertson), primatologist/ conservationist Dian Fossey (Sigourney Weaver) secures a job with him and travels to the Congo. War intercedes, but Fossey stays where she is studying the animals’ communication and social groups. She also uncovers widespread poaching operations. Photographer Bob Campbell (Bryan Brown) arrives to document her research. They become lovers, but he can’t stay. (True.)
We see Fossey’s work with and relationship to both apes and natives, her founding of the Karisoke Research Center, and what often seems like a one woman war against poachers – a battle that eventually resulted in her murder. Fossey called gorillas “dignified, highly social, gentle giants, with individual personalities, and strong family relationships.” She was not above violence to protect them. Fascinating. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Tina Turner: What’s Love Got To Do With It? 1993 Adapted from the book I, Tina, co-written by Turner with Kurt Loder. Directed by Brian Gibson. Anna Mae Bullock=Tina (Angela Bassett) is poor and miserable until discovered by charismatic professional singer Ike Turner (Laurence Fishburne) and added to his band. Ike mentors the grateful, suggestible talent, romance evolves, and they marry becoming ‘Ike and Tina Turner.’ As his wife’s star rises, Ike becomes jealous, abusive, and violent, fueled first by alcohol, then drugs.
When she finally has the courage to leave, Tina’s career plummets. Life is hardscrabble until… A look at the rough road of a tough, courageous woman. Bassett lip synced, Fishburne sang. Turner helped most with the re-creations of her famed dance routines. Screenwriter Kate Lanier omitted much of the brutality the artist describes in her book. Her character was also apparently sanitized. Performance is evocative, brutalization painful. Rent on Amazon Prime.
A Woman Doctor in Victorian London: Bramwell 1995- 4 seasons. It’s 1895. Dr. Eleanor Bramwell (Jemma Redgrave) lives in upper middle class style with her father, Dr. Robert Bramwell (Robert Calder), who tends to the elderly rich. Fired from a sexist hospital, she takes a job at a small, new medical facility called The London Thrift (on Thrift Street) established by altruistic family friend Lady Peters (Michele Dotrice). Eleanor begs former colleague Dr. Joe Marsham (Kevin McMonagle) to join the staff part time.
The British series takes us through medical ignorance and breakthroughs, social treatment of the poor, behavior of the rich, the vicissitudes of The Thrift, war, pandemic, love and loss. A terrific look at mores of the era and the subjugation of women with only small victories. Illuminating and well shot. A compelling heroine. Free with Amazon Prime.