Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal
Director: Mike Nichols
Running Time: 131 mins
Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? is an American film about a married couple who, at the peak of a bitter and angry marriage, spend a night hurling abuse at each other using a young couple to fuel their rage.
Well, this is by far one of the most depressing, soul-destroying and relentlessly bitter films I’ve ever seen, and that’s the brilliance of it. With two mesmerising central performances, a simple but incredibly realistic story and some brilliant cinematography, this is an absolute thrill-ride in one of the most unlikely scenarios.
I’ll start with those two brilliant performances by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. They play Martha and George, the bitter old couple whose marriage has descended into a series of vicious arguments thanks to both of their alcoholism, and the two actors really hit home in making them two absolutely fascinating and spiteful characters.
From the start, we immediately see that it’s Martha that wears the trousers in their relationship, and whilst it’s initially fascinating to see her verbally abuse her husband at every opportunity, what’s even more exciting and tense is the slow rise of her husband from a more reserved person to being just as aggressive as she is, which is what really spurs the most intense parts of the argument throughout this film, which Richard Burton really pulls off fantastically.
That’s one thing you have to be aware of: this film is just a two hour-plus-long argument, and that’s where the genius of the screenplay comes in. This film is based off of a famous play, and whilst it does retain some of the melodrama that you get from the theatre, it seems to be a much more realistic and dark adaptation of the story, which you see in the writing, as it not only utilises the exaggerated aggressiveness of the two main characters to create the excitement, but also looks deeper into them as individuals away from one another, which I found fascinating.
One of the things about this film that really does have a very theatrical feel is the cinematography. It’s a combination of slow, steady, long shots that emphasise the deeper emotions of the characters as well as swirling and very grand takes that mirror the insanity of this relationship and show how it’s just spiralling out of control, which really made it encapsulating to watch.
There is one problem with this film, however. I found seeing the intense bitterness of this married couple so soul-destroying and depressing that it often became impossible to actually listen to what they were arguing about; I was more focussed on the fact that they were basically ripping each other to shred, which not only depressed the hell out of me, but also meant I got a little bored at some parts of the story, but despite that, this film is still as thrilling and intense as can be expected, and that’s why it gets a 7.7.