Classics Corner: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
The Polanski film Carnage from 2011 is a film from the not so distant past that really surprised me and entertained me a lot. But as the title of this review already reveals, it’s not this film today, even though I should definitely write a review one day. Both movies have the same rather unspent setting. It’s more or less a filmed chamber play. As a great lover of theatre and chamber play on stage, both movies have developed a special attraction for me right from the first minute. So both are actually adaptations of plays. „Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?“ is a multiple Oscar-winning film from 1966 directed by Mike Nichols, who achieved great commercial success with the film. The great success is even more astonishing when you consider that for Mike Nichols it was his directing debut.
This time the plot will be presented in a shorter form and will not take up as much space as usual. When Martha, who is played by Elizabeth Taylor, one evening comes home drunk from a party and brings two friends with her, her husband George, played by Richard Burton, is not at all enthusiastic about it. While the two brought guests, Nick, played by George Segal, and Honey, played by Sandy Dennis, stand outside the door. George insults his wife, who then strikes back with sharp words. A violent quarrel breaks out. It quickly becomes obvious that in the course of her marriage years a lot of frustration and anger has accumulated here, which leads to an outbreak and no one knows exactly where this outbreak will lead.
But what’s so entertaining about watching and listening to a married couple argue? The at first rather harmless little arguments quickly develop into a relentless exposure and reckoning of the married couple, despite the visitors present. The depiction of hatred, feelings of inferiority and fears between man and woman that constantly wear each other out. The filming of these tensions is so elegantly executed that the viewer, just like the visitors, feels very present in the events. The acting performance of the main and supporting actors is phenomenally good and was accordingly rewarded with Oscars. (Best leading actress for Elizabeth Taylor and best supporting actress for Sandy Dennis.) Correspondingly for a chamber play, the complete plot actually only revolves in one place.
In a brilliant way the black-and-white camera shows the atmospherically illuminated picture, the costumes and the authentic setting. The fact that you can hardly tell whether this production is a play or a reality makes it more than just an entertainment film. Therefore, I agree with the opinion that “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” has to be ascribed a certain poetry.
However, praising the wonderful craftsmanship of the film adaptation and the brilliant acting performance, you shouldn’t forget that the movie isn’t good for relaxing and “brain switching off”. If you’re looking for that, you’re not well advised with this film. But if you opt for good dialogues, exciting word battles and just the (theatrical) acting, you won’t be disappointed and get an almost perfect movie. At least watching the film gets me excited for seeing an actual theatrical play of it soon.