Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, which arrives in theaters on Friday, October 13th, is unusual in a number of respects.
One, it brings to the forefront something that has been mostly only talked about in comic book circles for the decades, and that’s William Moulton Marston’s unusual family arrangements, as he was married to Elizabeth Holloway, but Olive Byrne lived with both of them. As told in Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman last year, Byrne grew up a feminist at the turn of the century and both she and Holloway likely had an impact on Marston’s decision to create Wonder Woman.
Two, the story promises to be that rare movie that treats polyamoury with emotional seriousness, rather than for titillation. As a press roundtable during New York Comic Con last Sunday, writer/director Angela Robinson said what she was interested in was the love story between three people.
And, three, the story incorporates kink or BDSM elements into the love story, again promising to take the kink seriously as part of a loving relationship, something that is rarely seen in movies, save for Secretary, a domination/submission romance starring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal. (Yes, I’m leaving out 50 Shades of Grey deliberately as that was more of a fantasy about BDSM.)
Robinson talked about how she approached those kink elements.
“I didn’t want to other them,” she said later.
Overall, Robinson said she’s been trying to make this movie for eight years.
“I was just a Wonder Woman fan, and someone gave me the history of Wonder Woman book by Les Daniels, and there was a chapter about Marston’s family.”
Rebecca Hall, who plays Marston’s wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, said she received an advance copy of the LePore book and instantly “became obsessed” with the story of Marston, Elizabeth, and Olive. When she found out Robinson had already been working on the story for eight years, “I said, show me that script immediately.”
“Angela’s script astonished me about how radical it was,” Hall continued. “The central question is not internal–the love triangle between the three of them–but external, in that society won’t accept them for who they are.”
“They wanted to live a normal life and bring their children up normally, as everyone does,” Luke Evans, who plays Marston, said.
However, the movie has received pushback from Marston’s granddaughter, Christie Marston, for its depiction of the relationship between the three people. I reached out to Christie Marston on Twitter and she replied that she had “many, many questions, primary being why a purely fictional story is being sold as ‘the true story.'”
What’s true is the three of them lived together, that William Marston was sexually involved with both women, that the married couple adopted Olive’s children, and that Olive and Elizabeth lived together for 38 years after Marston died. Other than that, there is no specific documentation.
Robinson also received a question as to her sources about the three-way relationship during the NYCC public panel for the movie, as there is no documented evidence of Elizabeth and Olive being sexually involved.
Robinson said during the press roundtable that she’d done considerable research the documents that were available on the Marstons and Olive Byrne. She read all of Marston’s letters that are available at the Smithsonian Library and Marston’s book, The Emotions of Normal People. “That was my alternate title for the movie,” Robinson said. “The Emotions of Normal People.”
Evans, too, in preparation for the role, read the book.
“This guy was a very deep thinker and his book is all about sorting through emotions to figure out what is normal for everyone,” Evans said.
“The book is 500 pages of defense of his [Marston’s] ideas,” Robinson said. “That was illuminating.”
Hall said she also studied photographs of the trio. “There are certain photographs of the three of them and you can see it there and I loved looking at one particular photo.”
“They needed a research assistant, so they hired her. She was there to help both of them before anything else between them, she was part of a team,” Evans added.
As for the rest? The movie is billed as “inspired by a true story,” and contains some liberties with the truth. (Comic fans have already pointed out that editor Sheldon Mayer’s role in real life has been given to publisher Max Gaines in the film) but as always with films based on reality, it will rely more on the filmmaker’s interpretation and the meaning they found in reality. And this movie does promise to represent a community that has been vastly underrepresented in film.