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A theatrical comedy graces Movies at the Library

COURTESY PHOTO | Annette Bening stars in ‘Being Julia,’ playing Tuesday, November 24 at the library.
COURTESY PHOTO | Annette Bening stars in ‘Being Julia,’ playing Tuesday, November 24 at the library.

The Tuesday, November 24 showing in the Movies at the Library series is a champagne float kind of film. “Being Julia” was made in 2004 and is based on W. Somerset Maugham’s 1937 novel, “Theatre.” It stars Annette Bening in one of her most beguiling parts.

The New York Times said, “‘Being Julia’ may not make much psychological or dramatic sense, but Ms. Bening pretending to be Julia (who is always pretending to be herself) is sensational.”

Roger Ebert wrote, “Like Margo Channing, the Bette Davis character in “All About Eve,” Julia draws little distinction between her public and private selves. She lives to be on the stage and when, at 45, she perceives that her star is dimming, she fights back with theatrical strategies.”

While Ms. Bening is magnificent all the way through, she ends the film departing from the playwright’s lines and improvising a new closing act right there onstage in a coup de théâtre that leaves the audience agape. She was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar and she won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a musical or comedy.

In this film, she is surrounded by a bevy of British luminaries. Her husband/manager is played with his customary aplomb by Jeremy Irons. They are joined by Juliet Stevenson as Julia’s personal maid and dresser and Michael Gambon as the mentor who launched her career.  Bruce Greenwood, Shaun Evans, Rosemary Harris, Rita Tushingham and Miriam Morgolyes are also on hand.

The story is a familiar one of an actress approaching middle age and feeling as if the world has passed her by. Julia Lambert is a star of the 1938 London stage. She and Mr. Irons’ long marriage has long since lost its luster, a fact that he can ignore while she seeks a substitute.

The search is not too successful with Mr. Greenwood and Mr. Evans playing the choices. However, when she learns that one of them is really interested in an ambitious young starlet, Julia plots her revenge and it is delicious indeed.

The director is Istfán Szab, the only Hungarian director to win an Oscar for his 2006 “Mephisto.”

The screenplay is by Ronald Harwood, perhaps best known for his stage play, “The Dresser,” based on his own experience as the personal dresser for Sir Donald Wolfit with Wolfit’s Shakespeare Company.

One of the delights of the film is a soundtrack buzzing with fluting accents and late-30’s pop tunes. The screen shines with period-appropriate costumes and acces­sories. The entire enterprise is visually wonderful with so many touches that bring a smile to your face.

There is hardly a serious frame in the whole film but that is the point — to have a rollicking good time. It delivers that and will send you home grinning from ear to ear.

The movie runs 104 minutes and will be shown on Tuesday, November 24 at 7 p.m. on the lower level of the Shelter Island Library.