In 2017, Wonder Woman the movie proved to be a smash hit, raising the question of why it had taken nearly eight decades to bring her to the big screen in a titular feature.
Another aspect of Wonder Woman that has raised some eyebrows — if only in the marketing department at Warner Bros — is this biographical feature about her creator and his unconventional life.
Much as Wonder Woman presented us with a contemporary take on the origin story of the most famous female superhero of all time, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women concerns itself with how she came to exist at the hand of William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) and the women who inspired him.
The reality of Marston’s life has been a source of controversy over the years, as he lived in a polyamorous relationship with his wife Elizabeth (played by Rebecca Hall) and live-in mistress Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), fathering children with both women.
Since the sexual nature of the relationship between Elizabeth and Olive has been contested by granddaughter Christie Marston, the filmmakers’ decision to supposedly take certain liberties with the Marstons’ and Byrne’s relationship may not ring true in terms of how they actually lived their lives.
However, the way the subject matter is handled is almost unprecedented in terms of representation of bisexuality, polyamoury and, to some extent, BDSM as a big screen feature aimed at mainstream audiences.
Throughout the film, a mutually consensual, polyamorous relationship is portrayed without the usual lewdness that such unconventional subjects usually fall victim to in mainstream media.
There is no lurid mastermind sleazily grooming additional parties to make them part of a situation they later come to regret. Instead, the progression of the relationship between the three protagonists feels natural, earnest and genuinely loving.
However, the relationship is not without conflict, but each party ultimately has the best interest of the others at heart, even if that is at times what causes the conflict in the first place.
In terms of the acting, the performances of Evans, Hall and Heathcote are all strong and convincing, not least in terms of the chemistry between all three parties.
The foreshadowing of the BDSM element in terms of bondage in particular is clever and subtle, as the confines of the lie detector, the Lasso of Truth and the bondage rope all tie in with one another.
As a result, the trio’s discovery of bondage does not feel sensational or lewd, but rather impactful and empowering, as it is played similarly to when a superhero steps up to finally accept their mantle.
In addition to inventing the lie detector and creating Wonder Woman with his wife, Marston also played an integral part in the creation of DISC theory, which many a workplace assessment is still based on to this day.
As the narrative progresses, each section thereof is divided into the four behavior types associated with DISC — dominance, inducement, submission and compliance.
Not only does this introduce Marston’s other work into the film, it also serves as the narrative framework, as the trio must at one point or another conform to one of the four behaviour types if they want their love to persevere.
LUKE-ALIKE? The real William Moulton Marston
Ultimately, not only is Professor Marston and the Wonder Women a refreshingly heartfelt and open-minded portrayal of an unconventional family unit.
It is also a compelling drama in terms of storytelling in more general terms, not to mention that it serves as a superb companion piece to Wonder Woman for the adult comic book fan.
This all makes Professor Marston and the Wonder Women a delectable ménage à trois of romance, desire and popular culture. Verdict: 9 out of 10
Read more movie reviews by Leyla Mikkelsen at:
New-York based writer Richard Pérez Seves, author of the blog FetHistory and of critically acclaimed illustrated biography Charles Guyette: Godfather of American Fetish Art, says it certainly could have happened, even if it can’t be definitely proven.
But he reckons its presence is in any case symbolic more than literal, since the Professor Marston film is not intended to be a documentary.
TAPED: The real Charles Guyette with a model
However, he reveals that there is scholarly evidence for Marston’s interest in bondage, and for the lesbian relationship between his two lovers, despite the insistence of the Professor’s granddaughter Christie Marston that these elements of the movie are untrue.
Richard Pérez Seves writes…
I enjoyed Professor Marston and the Wonder Women on its initial release in the US, and thought the scenes between Charles Guyette and the character of Olive Byrne were theatrical and well-staged.
I gasped to see Charles Guyette images on the big screen! And I understand Guyette’s presence in the narrative is meant to be symbolic — an interesting conceit from writer/director Angela Robinson.
One must understand that the movie is fictional — ‘inspired by true events’, not intended as a documentary.
Did the meeting of Charles Guyette and Olive Bryne ever happen? Did Guyette dress Miss Byrne in a costume that inspired Wonder Woman?
We may never know. Certainly Guyette was at the hub of an underground fetish social scene at that time. And there were demonstrations such as the one staged in the film involving bondage play.
Guyette was the man behind the curtain, much like the Wizard of Oz.
One minor point the film gets wrong is the Guyette character’s French accent. Guyette was American, born in Somerville Massachusetts.
He was of French and Irish descent like his father, and probably had an accent much like John Kennedy.
Sadly, American reactions to the film Professor Marston and the Wonder Women — or the BDSM and gay content in the film — have been somewhat reactionary and hostile.
Christie Marston, granddaughter of William Moulton Marston, who operates a squeaky-clean (“all-American” and Disney-friendly) Wonder Woman museum and was not “consulted on the film” claims all depictions of BDSM and lesbianism in it are false.
And she has taken to smearing the film on the internet wherever possible, personally appalled at the non-vanilla content, in particular the lesbian relationship it depicts.
She claims (or, more accurately, speculates,) that the two women where “were as sisters, not lovers”.
But writer/director Angela Robinson never claimed to be making a documentary film. And it’s very likely true that the two women were romantically involved.
Certainly both women were involved in BDSM, along with William Moulton Marston.
Supporting evidence can be found in The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore, which refers to a kinky party on pages 119-120.
In a book hailed as the definitive Wonder Woman origin story, Lepore writes, ‘Marston’s interests included what he called captivation … bondage” (p120).
Lepore also notes that Marston’s wife was obsessed with Sappho, the lesbian poet (see pages 22, 23). And that Olive, referred to as a ‘boyette’ in the book, cut her hair as a man while in school (pages 104, 109).
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is an interpretation of a real story. That’s all. Like the way The Elephant Man, both as an excellent movie and a play, interpreted the factual source material differently.
In the end, I’m hoping the film finds a wider and more open-minded audience around the world on DVD and Blu-ray. It’s worth seeing, for sure.
Read more Richard Pérez Seves on vintage fetish at:
BELOW: Movie stills and production shots by Claire Folger. BOTTOM: Professor Marston movie trailer