Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Updated: Feb 5
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a drama about William Moulton Marston, the creator of the Wonder Woman comic book, and his relationship with his wife Elizabeth and their lover Olive. It is about three people whose love for each other gets them into trouble. This film cares about them as much as they care about each other.
As the film begins, Marston (Luke Evans, Gaston in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) is researching submission and dominance while teaching college classes. Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), his wife and colleague, assists him. They ask his students to apply to be their research assistant and end up hiring Olive (Bella Heathcote), a popular young woman who is engaged to be married. They use Olive to introduce them to the thoughts and feelings of someone in their early twenties. It does not take long before all three realize they are in love with each other. That would be bad enough according to the standards of the institution they work for, but they also discover a shared passion for bondage and submission.
Marston was a psychologist who believed people typically showed how they felt through four specific behaviors: Dominance, Inducement, Submission and Compliance. He referred to this as the DISC theory. He also believed that it was important for people to find pleasure in submission, especially men, because it would make it easier for them to be around powerful women. Unlike many others at the time, Marston did not think women having power was a problem; the problem was men being afraid to give up their dominance. The main reason he created Wonder Woman was because he thought kids (specifically boys) needed to learn from an early age that it was okay to be submissive to strong women.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (103 minutes minus the end credits) is based on a true story, but it is not based on fact. It plays fast and loose with the real lives of the Marston’s and Olive. Writer/director Angela Robinson (a veteran of TV shows such as The L Word and True Blood) clearly had a story she wanted to tell and she used these people’s lives to tell it.
According to the Marston’s descendants, there was no polyamorous relationship. William Marston may have had a sexual relationship with both women, but they did not have one with each other. It is also possible that the creation of Wonder Woman and the backlash against it did not occur exactly the way it is presented here. Robinson is interested in exploring how Marston’s research into his DISC theory and his “unconventional” relationship with these two women led to the creation of the most popular female superhero of all-time and that is the story she tells. Her focus is on their ideas of love and the way Marston’s DISC theory informed his writing of Wonder Woman.
You do not go to a film for the absolute truth (unless it is a documentary, and even then it may only be a version of the truth). A film is a story as interpreted by its filmmakers. So a film based on a true story may be elements of real life mixed with the message the filmmakers want to get across. Such is the case with Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. Angela Robinson has made an intriguing, entertaining, well-acted film that tells a good story about three people who find their own way of being happy, but find that happiness threatened because it does not conform to what is considered proper. It may not be factual, but it is a good movie.
3¾ out of 5
Luke Evans as William Moulton Marston
Rebecca Hall as Elizabeth Marston
Bella Heathcote as Olive Byrne
Connie Britton as Josette Frank
JJ Feild as Charles Guyette
Chris Conroy as Brant Gregory
Oliver Platt as M.C. Gaines
Written and Directed by Angela Robinson