I recently finished binge-watching this miniseries. I loved every minute of it. I think it is one of best series in recent years. It’s one of those series where you can see in each shot exactly where the money has gone (costumes, sets, locations etc).
The series focuses on the legendary feud between classic actresses Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange). We follow them as they make What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? for director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina).
Aldrich is desperate to make this film a big hit and further his career. He is told by the studio head Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci)to play both actresses off against one another. So he begins to fuel their mutual dislike to ensure that their performances convey a real hatred that can be seen on screen. This approach works for the film but it intensifies their hatred off screen.
Davis and Crawford famously didn’t get along at all and they were very different women. Davis was brutally honest, down to earth, and she would take any role (film, TV, stage) because she wanted to work. I also don’t think Davis cared about her looks all that much, she has always struck me as someone who had a what you see is what you get attitude and persona.
Crawford was glamourous and always comes across to me as being less down to earth than Bette Davis was. Crawford was more like a queen and acted like a star. She was deeply hurt by how she was treated as she got older. I get the impression that she found it very difficult to hide her feelings and her desires. She longed for the days when she was praised and desired. I can’t blame her for feeling that, but if she had pushed hard to keep getting more roles (like Bette did)then things may have been a bit different for her.
Yet for all their differences, they actually had more in common with each other than either woman would have cared to admit (trouble getting the roles they deserved once they got older, difficulty with their children and their marriages, both being strong and determined women.)
This series had me laughing one moment and then tearing up the next. It also shows you that sadly not much has changed for women in the film industry. Women are still judged on their looks. Actresses are still relegated to mum and granny roles once they hit a certain age.
Male actors on the other hand still seem to be getting the same type of roles they got in their heyday. For goodness sake, why can’t the studios look beyond the physical appearance of ALL these performers and just see their acting talent? Give them the roles that their talents deserve.
The series made me feel so much for these two actresses. Once the biggest stars of their day, they are now forced to work in films and series that are far beneath their level of acting talent. I was also very moved by the realisation that if these two women had been able to be friends they would have made one hell of a formidable team. Think how they could have taken on their bosses together. They were both strong women who wanted things to change and I think that they could have made quite an impact in this regard if they had worked together.
The series works hard to make you sympathise with Joan more so than with Bette. Joan is portrayed very much as a victim here(I have to say that I consider part of her downfall to be entirely her own fault though, due to her terrible behaviour on Hush… Hush,Sweet Charlotte)and Lange does an incredible job of portraying her as a proud woman falling into despair and distress.
I like how this series tries to look beyond the Joan who has become so well known to us from her daughters book and accusations. Joan comes across as being a very flawed woman, but this series does make her a bit more human than she has been portrayed as before.
While Lange doesn’t really look much like Crawford. Despite that she certainly brings her to life for us and makes us share her pain, her joy, and also her desperation to be a screen queen once again. This woman demands respect and she feels that it is time she gets what she deserves (the respect and admiration of her colleagues).
Bette is portrayed as feeling the slights just as deeply as Joan does, but she is able to hide how much she is hurt by the industries treatment of her better than Joan is able to. Bette takes it all in her stride and just gets on with it. I think Sarandon acts and looks like Bette quite a bit and manages to capture her toughness and matter of fact attitude very well.
Alfred Molina is excellent as the weary director trying to handle two difficult women while trying to focus on his own career too.
Judy Davis steals all the scenes as Hedda Hopper, the terrifying gossip columnist who made and broke careers at the drop of a hat.
Jackie Hoffman is excellent as Joan’s loyal and long suffering housekeeper, Mamacita. She doesn’t treat Joan as an actress, she treats her as a real person and tries to keep her grounded when she gets full of herself.
Kiernan Shipka (little Sally Draper from Mad Men)is very good as Bette’s rebellious daughter.
Stanley Tucci is the main villain of the series. He oozes unpleasantness, control and disdain as Warner. This guy casually destroys the hopes and ambitions of those working for him.
I also like how the series shows that basically everyone in the film industry will get treated badly at some point (be they male or female). Aldrich is treated pretty badly despite having more power and opportunity than any of the women he works with do! Aldrich is still far from where he wants to be, and he has to put up with unpleasant treatment just like everybody else does.
The series also shows just how fast status can change in this industry. You could go from being a praised and beloved star one day, to being a forgotten has been the next. This series shows how much that change hurts those affected by it. This industry is very cruel. It does have it’s blessings though because we can continue to see Joan and Bette in their heyday starring in quality films.
Thanks to the magic of film, these two women can remain forever young, remain forever beautiful, and remain forever talented. As fans we can choose to honour them by watching Rain, All About Eve, Grand Hotel, Mr. Skeffington etc, instead of by watching rubbish like Trog.
If you love classic era cinema then I think you should watch Feud. Sarandon and Lange both deliver powerful and unforgettable performances. They bring these two women to life and give us a glimpse of what Davis and Crawford were like off screen.
I really want Sarandon and Lange to act together again real soon, they are utterly incredible together in this. I think their respective performances here are amongst their best work.
Have you seen this series? What did you think?