Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Release Year: 1966
Director: Mike Nichols
Writers: Ernest Lehman (screenplay), Edward Albee (based on his 1962 play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)
Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal, Sandy Dennis
Rating: Won 5 Oscars: Best Actress (Elizabeth Taylor), Best Supporting Actress (Sandy Dennis), Best Cinematography – Black & White, Best Art Direction – Black & White, Best Costume Design – Black & White. Nominated for 8 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director (Mike Nichols), Best Actor (Richard Burton), Best Supporting Actor (George Segal), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Score. Nominated for 7 Golden Globes: Best Picture – Drama, Best Director, Best Actress – Drama (Elizabeth Taylor), Best Actor – Drama (Richard Burton), Best Supporting Actress (Sandy Dennis), Best Supporting Actor (George Segal), Best Screenplay.
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #194, week 10 2018
A bitter and middle aged couple invite a young colleague and his wife over for late night drinks and decide to use them in the vicious games they play with each other.
Edward Albee’s award winning play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which has nothing to do with the author Virginia Woolf, is an intense single stageset play that captures the tumultuous relationship of a vicious couple during a drunken night with a young couple. The cinematic adaptation plays around with scenery a bit more but sticks to the formula. Headlining as the middle-aged couple, George and Martha, are the tempestuous on and off screen couple Richard Burton (Becket, 1964) and Elizabeth Taylor (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958), both acting their butts off. They are challenged but never quite matched by two relatively unknowns, George Segal (A Touch of Class, 1973) and Sandy Dennis (Up the Down Staircase, 1967). The story explores the multifaceted tensions of George and Martha’s relationship, tensions that all revolve around one issue, which I won’t spoil here. The film is without doubt emotionally drawing and powerful, especially in its final moments, as well as darkly funny at times. The score is simple but evocative and the direction draws you in to the centre of a conversation that you at times wish you could escape from; remarkably this was Mike Nichols’s (The Graduate, 1967) directorial début. However the film is very “stagey” and consists of four people talking and little else. The characters also feel very stagey while the film obviously attempts realism. Where would you ever meet anyone like George and Martha? If you like the theatre and watching top quality acting unfold before your eyes, this is one of the best examples out there, if not watch it for its significance in movie history as well and for Burton and Taylor who are always a delight to watch.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was only the second film in Oscar history to be nominated in every category it was eligible in. The first film to do so was Cimarron (1931).
Although the title is obviously inspired by the song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Woolf?” as sung in Disney’s short film The Three Little Pigs (1933), Warner Bros. was unable to secure the use from the tune from Disney and so the line was sung in the film to “Here We Go ’round the Mulberry Bush” instead.
The film starring Bette Davis that Elizabeth Taylor’s character is referring to at the beginning of the film is Beyond the Forest (1949).
Picture Copyright: Warner Bros.