In a stroke of serendipitous timing, Angela Robinson’s film about the inspiration behind the Wonder Woman comic book drops the same year as Patty Jenkin’s adaptation of the superhero set the box office ablaze. Fortunately for Robinson, her film Professor Marston & the Wonder Women will only help to keep the collective passion for the Amazonian princess burning brightly. A feat that is quite remarkable when one considers the film’s conventional structure.
Using traditional framing tropes, such as having the protagonist defend his views in front of disciplinary panel, and thus telling his life story in the process, it is easy to dismiss Professor Marston & the Wonder Women as yet another prestige biopic. However, it is what Robinson manages to achieve within the narrative structure that makes the film so engaging to watch. She crafts a film that is one of the most sexually positive, and feminist inspiring, mainstream films you will see this year.
The film examines the life of William and Elizabeth Marston (Luke Evans and Rebecca Hall), two academics at Tufts University who were responsible for the invention of the Lie Detector. Dealing with many of the institutionalized challenges of the time, take the fact that Harvard refuses to give Elizabeth, a woman, the degree she deserves, the couple’s studies in American psychology have garnered quite a following at the school. One individual intrigued by both the couple and their work is Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), a student in William’s psychology class. Taking a position as the couple’s research assistant, Olive finds it tough to resist the growing romantic feelings she has for the Marstons.
Exploring the polyamorous relationship that William, Elizabeth and Olive shared in a loving way, Robinson’s film effectively conveys the sense of female liberation that was crucial to the professor’s D.I.S.C. (Dominance, Inducement, Submission, Compliance) theory. Though William was the one who created Wonder Woman, it is Elizabeth and Olive who are the keys to both the iconic hero and Robinson’s film itself. It could even be argued that William is more of a secondary character, at least in the first half, as the film is most captivating when focusing on the push and pull bond between Elizabeth and Olive.
Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote deliver strong performances in the film, each bringing the right amount of strength and vulnerability to their roles. They are the embodiment of Wonder Woman, and beacons of light for the sexual empowerment of women. They not only drive the sexual encounters in the film, but also emphasize the importance of consent and trust in relationships. As charming as Luke Evan is in the film, especially in the latter half of the film which focuses more heavily on William’s creation of Wonder Woman, his arc is nothing without the two strong women walking alongside him.
It should be noted that Robinson does a wonderful job of showing the parallels between the bondage and lesbian imagery of the early Wonder Woman comics and the sexual exploration in the film’s central relationship. In highlighting the various prejudices the trio endured in the 1920’s, Robinson hits home how the quest for equality, especially in regards to loving who you want, is something that is still being fought for today.
Presenting the fluidity of sexuality and love in a compassionate way, Professor Marston & the Wonder Women is an engaging crowd-pleaser that Wonder Woman herself would no doubt approve of.