Earlier this year, Wonder Woman surprised audiences worldwide by becoming the DCEU’s first real hit. It’s only fitting that four months later we would get a biopic of her creator. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women follows a very unconventional love story that, if put into the wrong hands, could have been handled poorly. But writer/director Angela Robinson sensitively handles the polyamorous love between Dr. William Moulton Marston, his wife Elizabeth, and his student Olive, making everything feel intimate instead of exploitative.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women starts off in the 50’s. Professor Marston (Luke Evans) is being confronted by conservative crusader, Josette Frank (Connie Britton), about his controversial creation. To her, Wonder Woman contains too much eroticism, homosexuality, and hints of BDSM, and thus should be censored. It then cuts to the 1920’s when Marston is teaching psychology to a classroom of lovestruck ladies. His wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) is a brilliant psychologist but cannot get her P.H.D because she is a woman. To satisfy her needs, she sits in on Marston’s classes and helps him with his research. Their marriage is soon cracked open when Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) comes in as a student assistant. But instead of ruining their marriage, she introduces herself as a potential third. Together, they start an unorthodox, polyamorous relationship in a very conservative world.
Evans melts into his role and is entirely believable as a smart college professor and a feminist who aims to create a role model for girls. Heathcote starts off as adorable and naturally grows into a mature woman who is so proud of her sexuality. But the spotlight belongs to Hall as the dynamic Elizabeth. As an intellect who prefers to suppress her emotions, Hall expresses more with her eyes than some actors can with a thousand lines of dialogue.
If you were hoping for a traditional biopic about the Wonder Woman origin, this is not the film for you. Professor Marston is a very sensationalized account of actual events (Marston’s granddaughter has even denounced the film), but focuses more on unconventional love than the superhero herself.
It should also be said that the film suffers when Robinson over explains her points through the Josette Frank scenes. The film makes it clear enough in scene that Marston’s interest in sexual kinks and his background with inventing the lie detector inspired a lot of Wonder Woman’s character. However, having Frank then blatantly point out the links between his life and his art cheapens the moment of discovering it for ourselves.
That being said, the true focus is at the center of this atypical relationship. The trio stays together for decades, even raising their children together in a suburban household. What keeps the film so full of energy is Robinson focusing on celebrating their love instead of making it a freak show to be gawked at. Watching their love evolve from reluctance into full-on bondage makes the other aspects of the film seem dull. However, there’s only so much that you convey in this relationship before it starts to succumb to biopic cliches. Eventually, an illness is shoehorned in along with a conflict that was obviously created for tension purposes. It doesn’t cheapen the romance, but for a biopic that’s so “un-biopic-like,” the film didn’t need such melodramatic conventions.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women may not be completely accurate, but that doesn’t dampen the message it sends. Trying to embrace your fluid sexuality in a conservative society is as relevant today as it was over 100 years ago.