Being Julia
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Being Julia is a 2004 comedy-drama film directed by István Szabó and starring Annette Bening and Jeremy Irons. The screenplay by Ronald Harwood is based on the novel Theatre (1937) by W. Somerset Maugham. The original film score was composed by Mychael Danna.


Set in London in 1938, the film focuses on highly successful and extremely popular theatre actress Julia Lambert (Annette Bening), whose gradual disillusionment with her career as she approaches middle age has prompted her to ask her husband, stage director Michael Gosselyn (Jeremy Irons), and his financial backer Dolly de Vries (Miriam Margolyes) to close her current production to allow her time to travel abroad. They persuade her to remain with the play throughout the summer. Michael introduces her to Tom Fennel (Shaun Evans), an enterprising American, who confesses his deep appreciation of her work. Seeking the passion missing from her marriage, and anxious to fill the void left when her close friend Lord Charles (Bruce Greenwood) suggested they part ways to avoid scandalous gossip, Julia embarks on a passionate affair with the young man and begins to support him so he may enjoy the glamorous lifestyle to which she has introduced him. Their relationship revives her, sparking a distinct change in her personality. Always hovering in the background and offering counsel is the spirit of her mentor, Jimmie Langton (Michael Gambon), the theatrical manager who gave Julia her start and made her a star, while flesh-and-blood Evie (Juliet Stevenson) serves as her personal maid, dresser, and confidante.

Michael suggests they invite Tom to spend time at their country estate, where he can become better acquainted with their son Roger (Tom Sturridge). At a party there, Tom meets aspiring actress Avice Crichton (Lucy Punch), and, when Julia sees him flirting with the pretty young woman, she becomes jealous and anxious and angrily confronts him. He slowly reveals himself to be a callous, social-climbing, gold-digging gigolo, and Julia is shattered when their affair comes to an end.

Avice, now romantically involved with Tom, asks him to bring Julia to see her perform in a play in the hope the actress will induce her husband to cast her in a supporting role in Julia s upcoming project. The play is dreadful, and Avice is not much better. Backstage, Julia compliments her even-worse co-star and barely acknowledges Avice, although she promises to tell Michael about her. Afterwards, she forces Tom to admit he loves Avice, then – although her heart is broken by his admission – she assures him she will insist the ingenue be cast in her next play.

When Julia s performance in her current play begins to suffer from her personal discontent, Michael closes the production, so Julia visits her mother (Rosemary Harris) and her Aunt Carrie (Rita Tushingham) in Jersey, where Lord Charles comes to visit her. Julia suggests a romantic tryst, and he gently tells her that he s gay. Meanwhile, back in London, Avice auditions for Michael. Although Julia resents it, she is given the role.

Julia returns home to begin rehearsals for the new play. Shortly after, she learns from her son that Avice has been one of Michael s casual trysts. Still, she is uncharacteristically solicitous toward the girl, making suggestions that place her in the spotlight and insisting her own wardrobe be drab to allow Avice to shine. What her director and fellow cast members don t realize is there s a method to her seeming madness – Julia has planned her sweet revenge for the opening night performance, during which she successfully affirms her position as London theatre s foremost diva by upstaging every aspect of Avice s performance.


Filming began in June 2003. Exteriors were shot on location in London and Jersey. Interiors were filmed in Budapest, including inside the Danubius Hotel Astoria, and Kecskemét in Hungary.

The soundtrack features a number of popular songs of the era, including They Didn t Believe Me by Jerome Kern and Herbert Reynolds; Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries by Lew Brown and Ray Henderson; Mad About the Boy by Noël Coward; I Get a Kick Out of You by Cole Porter; She s My Lovely by Vivian Ellis; Bei Mir Bist Du Schon by Sholom Secunda, Jacob Jacobs, Sammy Cahn, and Saul Chaplin; and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Otto A. Harbach and Jerome Kern.

The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, the San Sebastián Film Festival, the Vancouver International Film Festival, the Calgary Film Festival, and the Chicago International Film Festival before opening in the US in limited release.

The film grossed $14,339,171 at the box office.

Differences from the novel

The film omits much of Julia s recollections of her life and career with Michael and her previous affair with a Spaniard whose name she never knows. In the original story she meets Lord Charles when his wife attempts to insult her by bringing up her common origins. Although Julia s retort is the same in the film this scene occurs after she has already met Charles and the attempted insult is made by someone who is not married to him. Charles in the film is not married at all and turns out to be a confirmed bachelor.

In novel, Julia has to convince Michael to keep the lackluster Avice Crichton in the play in order to exact her revenge on her. In the adaptation, Michael is having a fling with her.

Jimmie Langton also often appears as a figment of Julia s imagination giving advice or reacting to her actions, a device which is not present in the original story.


  • Annette Bening as Julia Lambert
  • Jeremy Irons as Michael Gosselyn
  • Shaun Evans as Tom Fennel
  • Lucy Punch as Avice Crichton
  • Juliet Stevenson as Evie
  • Miriam Margolyes as Dolly de Vries
  • Tom Sturridge as Roger Gosselyn
  • Bruce Greenwood as Lord Charles
  • Rosemary Harris as Julia s Mother
  • Rita Tushingham as Aunt Carrie
  • Michael Gambon as Jimmie Langton

Critical reception

Being Julia has received fairly positive reviews, with Bening receiving acclaim for her performance, and an average score of 65/100 at the review aggregator Metacritic, based on 38 critics, indicating generally favorable reviews . The film also has an approval rating of 76% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 123 reviews, and an average rating of 6.70/10. The website s critical consensus states, Annette Bening delivers a captivating performance in Being Julia, a sophisticated comedy that follows a 1930s stage diva who experiences an identity crisis at age 40 .

In his review in The New York Times, A.O. Scott called the film a flimsy frame surrounding a brightly colored performance by Annette Bening, whose quick, high-spirited charm is on marvelous display . . . She gives Being Julia a giddy, reckless effervescence that neither Mr. Szabo s stolid direction nor Ronald Harwood s lurching script . . . are quite able to match . . . Ms. Bening walks right up to the edge of melodramatic bathos (the hallmark of the kind of plays in which Julia stars) and then, in a wonderful climactic coup de théâtre, turns it all into farce. 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 of the Chicago Sun-Times said, Annette Bening plays Julia in a performance that has great verve and energy, and just as well, because the basic material is wheezy melodrama. All About Eve breathed new life into it all those years ago, but now it s gasping again . . . I liked the movie in its own way, while it was cheerfully chugging along, but the ending let me down; the materials are past their sell-by date and were when Maugham first retailed them. The pleasures are in the actual presence of the actors, Bening most of all, and the droll Irons, and Juliet Stevenson as the practical aide-de-camp, and Thomas Sturridge, so good as Julia s son that I wonder why he wasn t given the role of her young lover.

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Carla Meyer described the film as a one-woman show and added, There are several notable actors in it, most of them quite good, but it s the glorious Annette Bening who hoists this flawed production on her mink-wrapped shoulders and makes it work . . . Her stage background at American Conservatory Theater shows in her multilayered tour de force.

Todd McCarthy of Variety observed, Annette Bening has fun running the vast gamut of her emotions, be they authentic or manufactured. But Istvan Szabo s new film, like the W. Somerset Maugham novel upon which it s based, is a minor affair, a confection based on dalliances and the way a set of sophisticated theater people handle them, that lacks true distinction . . . Working in a much lighter vein than usual, Szabo has said he studied the films of Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder in preparation for this picture. Unfortunately, Being Julia has little to do with the specifically Viennese strain of wise and winkingly cynical romantic comedy perfected by those two masters of the sexual charade and nearly everything to do with the world of pre-war London theater. This is a film that, above all else, needed to be steeped in Britishness, in the very particular mores and manners of the time; as a Canadian production mostly shot in Budapest by a Hungarian director and an American star and a number of Canuck thesps, this just doesn t happen. The deficiencies may be intangible, but they deprive film of the solid footing it requires . . . The majority of the seriocomic doings, while superficially diverting, provide neither indelible wit nor the gravitas of a genuinely meaningful comedy of manners (see Oscar Wilde), leaving a relatively wispy impression in its wake.

In Rolling Stone, Peter Travers awarded the film two out of a possible four stars and commented, Annette Bening can act – watch American Beauty or Bugsy or The Grifters – but she works too hard to prove it in Being Julia . . . Director Istvan Szabo overplays his hand and traps in a role that s all emoting, no emotion.

Mark Kermode of The Observer said, Annette Bening makes a claim for an Oscar nomination . . . Chewing up the scenery in lipsmacking form, she savours the ribald dialogue like an overripe wine, spitting venom and self-pity in equally bilious measures, lending much needed weight to this contrived fluff.

Awards and nominations

  • Academy Award for Best Actress (Annette Bening, nominee)
  • Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical (Bening, winner)
  • Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role – Motion Picture (Bening, nominee)
  • Satellite Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Bening, winner)
  • Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Jeremy Irons, nominee)
  • Genie Award for Best Motion Picture (nominee)
  • Genie Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Bruce Greenwood, nominee)
  • National Board of Review Award for Best Actress (Bening, winner)
  • London Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress (Bening, nominee)
  • Bangkok International Film Festival Golden Kinnaree Award for Best Actress (Bening, winner; tied with Ana Geislerova for Želary)
  • Bangkok International Film Festival Golden Kinnaree Award for Best Film (nominee)
  • European Film Award for Best Director (nominee)
  • European Film Award for Best Cinematography (nominee)
  • Southeastern Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress (Bening, winner)

Year 2004
ReleaseDate 2005-02-18
RuntimeMins 104
RuntimeStr 1h 44min
Plot Set in 1930s London, this movie involves stage actors and actresses and their experiences with love and revenge.
Awards Nominated for 1 Oscar, 9 wins & 19 nominations total
Directors István Szabó
Writers W. Somerset Maugham, Ronald Harwood
Stars Annette Bening, Michael Gambon, Maury Chaykin
Produced by Sandra Cunningham,Robert Lantos,Mark Milln,Mark Musselman,Marion Pilowsky,Julia Rosenberg,Kevan Van Thompson
Music by Mychael Danna
Cinematography by Lajos Koltai
Film Editing by Susan Shipton
Casting By John Buchan,Celestia Fox
Production Design by Luciana Arrighi
Art Direction by Paul Ghirardani,Lóránt Jávor
Set Decoration by Zoltán Horváth,Attila Köves,Ian Whittaker
Costume Design by John Bloomfield
Makeup Department Elle Elliott,Egonné Endrényi,Erzsébet Forgács,Kat Kairo,Jánosné Kajtár,Nóra Koltai,Lesley Lamont-Fisher,Chris Redman,Stephen Rose,Jordan Samuel,Eric Scruby,Sarah-Jane Sheehy,Anna Tesner,Jeanette Redmond
Production Management Neil Chordia,Kate Dain,Kinga Kovacs,Philip Morris,Gábor Téni,Lori A. Waters,Lajos Óvári
Second Unit Director or Assistant Director Adam Badrawy,William Dutton,Gergely Fülöp,Christopher Hughes,László Janicsek,Lídia Jung,Dávid Spáh,Guy Travers,Matthew Wehrle
Art Department Alan Bailey,Kinga Baranyai,Péter Brill,Roy Chapman,Aaron Chetwynd,Judit Csák,Mike Cuddy,János Czakó,Billy Edwards,Colin Ellis,Kimberley Fahey,Dave Fisher,Dean Fisher,Steve Furneaux,Éva Gerö,John Gibson,Jason Hopperton,Tamas Kiss,Péter Kovács,Tony Lenman,Warren Lever,Mihály Marton,Anthony Owen,Gábor Parányi,Pippa Roberts,Robert Sansom,Miklós Schmelcz,Pater Sparrow,Lajos E. Szabó,Zoltán Szabó,Krisztina Szilágyi,Timna Woollard,József Ócsai
Sound Department Fred Brennan,Kathy Choi,Janie Dahn,Roderick Deogrades,Nick Foley,Stefan Fraticelli,Jamie Gould,Matthew Hussey,Simon Kaye,Garrett Kerr,Thomas Kodros,Goro Koyama,János Köporosy,Andy Malcolm,Anna Malkin,Ron Malligers,Margot Massie,David McCallum,Chris Navarro,Daniel Pellerin,Sandra Portman,Szabolcs Stella,David Sutton,Ted Swanscott,Jane Tattersall,Andrew Tay,Eric Thompson,Don White,Rebecca Wright,David Yonson,Mark Zsifkovits
Special Effects by Gábor Balogh,János Berki,Furedi Csaba,David Harris,Gabor Kiszelly,Gyula Krasnyánszky,Ferenc Ormos,György Solymosi
Visual Effects by Genevieve Forte,John Furniotis,Chris Wallace,Motassem Younes
Camera and Electrical Department Gyula Balogh,Csaba Bankhardt,Balázs Bélafalvy,Andrew Curling,Dániel Decsi,István Decsi,Alex Dukay,Paul Facer,Károly Gaál,Ákos Gulyás,Stuart Howell,Amnon Israeli,Adam Korneth,Tamás Krausz,Sabrina Lantos,Joe McGee,Zsigmond Molcsány,Tamás Nyerges,Péter Pozsonyi,Luis Santos,István Szaladják,Rudolf Takács,Mary Thompson,József Trombitás,András Tóth,Attila V. Nagy
Casting Department Jay Benedict,Alex Johnson,Tamás Kertész,Mari Makó,Jonathan Payne,Phoebe Scholfield,Gail Stevens
Costume and Wardrobe Department Charlotte Bird,Imre Béres,Sándor Csajbók,Anikó Fazekas,Mónika Frankl,Gabriella Hõgye,Attila Jánosi,David Murphy,Miklós Nemes,Steven Paige,Magdalen Rubalcava,Gábor Simkó,Móni Simkó,Zsuzsa Stenger,Gabor Szabo,Gyula Zámbó
Editorial Department Chad Glastonbury,Chris Hinton,Brigitte Rabazo,Catherine Rankin,Emma Sanders,Chris Wallace
Location Management Jared Connon,Tamás Guba,Isabella Kaliff-Lewis,Steve Mortimore,Asha Sharma,Emma Woodcock,Josh Yudkin
Music Department Lesley Barber,Mychael Danna,Nicholas Dodd,Liz Gallacher,Paul Intson,Ron Korb,Dan Parr,Michael Perlmutter,Ron Searles,Rob Simonsen,Lenny Solomon,Youki Yamamoto
Script and Continuity Department Elaine Yarish
Transportation Department Péter Balogh,Simon Barker,Tibor Bodor,Zoltán Fohn,Michael Geary,Zsolt Spitzer,József Spáth,Zsolt Zászló
Additional Crew Katalin Baranyi,Guy Barker,Eva Borsos,William Cameron,Richard Carless,John Charles,Catherine Charlton,Clair Chrysler,Dennis Davidson,Ken Dhaliwal,Brad Fox,Gergely Fülöp,Rita Galántai,Piers Gielgud,Lucy Jack,Anya Keith,Balázs Kovács,Barnabás Kovács,Jen Lambert,Steven Lewis,Kati Magenheim,Meredith Mohr,Jay Parsons,Andrew E. Pecs,Ceris Price,David Scott,Karen Shaw,Michael Solomon,Jeffrey Spitzer,Enikö Szakács,Esther Szasz,Beatrix Szombati,Eszter Szász,Aida Tannyan,Ned Vukovic,Kelly Willson Harvey,Judith Windsor,Youki Yamamoto,Éva Zöld
Genres Comedy, Drama, Romance
Companies Serendipity Point Films, First Choice Films, Hogarth Productions
Countries Canada, USA, Hungary, UK
Languages English
ContentRating R
ImDbRating 7
ImDbRatingVotes 12529
MetacriticRating 65
Keywords open marriage,infidelity,older woman younger man relationship,unfaithfulness,adultery