Being Julia

Being Julia (2004)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Annette Bening, Jeremy Irons, Juliet Stevenson, Michael Gambon
Extras: Commentary Track, Making-of Featurette, Deleted Scenes

Let’s just get this out of the way before we start: Annette Bening was robbed at this year’s Oscars. While the individual eventually awarded the statuette gave a terrific performance in their film (so I don’t name names), it just can’t hold a candle to Annette Bening’s sublime turn as the lusty, beguiling Julia Lambert in Istvan Szabo’s "Being Julia." A cinematic soufflé of equal parts character study and flat-out soap opera, "Being Julia" will hopefully find its deserving audience on DVD, recently released by Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment.

Adapted by Ronald Harwood from the W. Somerset Maugham novel "Theatre," "Being Julia" basically is a mid-life crisis story, accented with theatrical costumes and greasepaint. Stage star Julia Lambert is the toast of 1938 London. With her husband/producer Michael Gosselyn (Jeremy Irons), she reigns supreme over her starstruck public. But Julia is dissatisfied with the wealth, the adoration, and the monotony of her life, evidenced by the ghostly interventions of her deceased director (Michael Gambon). Julia embarks on an affair with a raffish American fan (Shaun Evans), but rather than unravel her life, the lusty encounters create a chain of circumstances that will give Julia another chance to regain control of her life and remind her that sometimes it’s good to be the diva.

"Being Julia" is a tasty romp from start to finish. In addition to Bening’s absolutely enchanting performance, Irons’ deadpan demeanor as her long-admiring/long-suffering partner Gosselyn is a perfect counterpoint to Julia’s frequent theatrics. Szabo juggles the more sordid elements of the tale (infidelity, betrayal, even revenge) with a light touch and the ending is a corker, not only for Julia but the audience as well.

The <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer suffers a bit from grain, but otherwise exhibits great color rendition and detail with lots of warm browns and appropriately muted tones. Contrast and black levels are, respectively, nicely balanced and solid. Digital and compression artifacts are nil and the source print is expectedly spotless.

The <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 audio track is nice but nothing to really write home about. There are some instances of discrete background sound effects in the theater scenes, but since the film’s power comes primarily from the actors and their performances, my main criteria for a film like this is the center channel. Dialogue comes through nice and clean, so that you don’t have to strain to hear every barb and wisecrack. There are no additional language options.

While not exactly a turbo-charged DVD special edition, "Being Julia" does come with a few fun extras. The big gun is a feature-length <$commentary,commentary track> with Bening, Irons and director Szabo. Irons appears to moderate, as he seems to get conversations going and directly asks questions to Szabo and Bening. The insights are fun and I got the sense that the participants really enjoyed taking a look at the production. There’s a standard 5 minute "making-of" featurette that at least doesn’t have the flash and crass of those "First Look" publicity fests. Four deleted scenes and a handful of trailers round out the disc.

"Being Julia" is well worth the visit on DVD. Being naughty was never so much fun!