As eloquently described by Catherine Zeta Jones‘s portrayal of two-time Academy Award winning actress Olivia de Havilland, feuds are never about hate…they are about pain. And in the first season of Ryan Murphy‘s latest anthology series Feud, pain is running rampant for both Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon), two legendary actresses who were perhaps even more well-known for their off-screen difficulties than they were for their on-screen duties.
The real-life rivalry between Crawford and Davis is one for the history books, a feud so outrageous in that it defined the phrase “stranger than fiction”, and though it appears strange that it has taken this long for Hollywood to broach the salaciousness that was the two’s relationship, Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck, Glee, American Horror Story) is certainly making up for it with his delicious TV affair.
Set during the 1960’s when the star-power of both actresses had seriously diminished, Feud acts as something of a commentary on the career prospects of ageing stars in the industry, and that the older the women get, the more difficult it is to earn substantial work; nice to see how times have changed since…
Realising that the only way she’s going to earn a role worthy of her self-noted talent, Crawford opts to create her own project – and what better to guarantee interest than casting herself opposite her own rival? It’s clear that in the initial stages of production for What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? both Crawford and Davis were determined to put their differences (or, more correctly, their bold similarities) aside and let their work speak for itself; Crawford even offered Davis the title role as a sort-of peace offering.
It’s evident that Murphy has a great love for the industry and the two women (both are portrayed in equal light as victim and villain) and as much fun as it is to see Lange and Sarandon recreate such iconic imagery as those presented in Baby Jane, some of Feud‘s finest moments are when filming has wrapped and the critical acclaim specifically placed on Davis allows the real antagonistic behaviour to reveal itself.
As to be expected from a Ryan Murphy production, Feud presents itself as a heightened version of reality, yet it appears completely plausible that both Crawford and Davis would do and say everything that transpires on-screen. And as much as the titular twosome were to blame for the tensity of the working environment, the male suits behind the curtain shared equal responsibility, as we see through the actions of studio head Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) encouraging their bad behaviour in a bid to garner more publicity.
It goes without saying that with Lange and Sarandon at the helm, Feud is a splendid watch for their efforts alone; both actresses effortlessly capture their counterparts determination and vulnerability. And the stellar support cast of Tucci, Zeta-Jones, Alfred Molina (as Baby Jane’s director Robert Aldrich) and Sarah Paulson (as Academy Award winning actress Geraldine Page) only adds considerable weight to a show that occasionally wavers due to an insistence on one-too-many “woe is me” monologues; Judy Davis is perhaps the brightest spot as legendary gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, a player in her own bitter feud with fellow columnist Louella Parsons, a rivalry only fleetingly acknowledged here; although we know we can rule out Murphy exploring this in the foreseeable future as season 2 has been confirmed to focus on Prince Charles and Diana.
Juicy, camp, sad and wicked – much like Baby Jane – Feud: Bette and Joan is appetising television, if not for anything else than to see two modern day legends of cinema duke it out as classics of the industry gone by.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Feud: Bette & Joan premieres on Showcase on Foxtel on Sunday March 12th.