Studio: Sony Pictures Classics (released Oct. 15)
Category: Adapted (from the novella “Theater” by W. Somerset Maugham)
Storyline: Set in 1938 London, dramedy stars Annette Bening as Julia Lambert, a famed actress married to a theater producer (Jeremy Irons). Julia thinks she has found the antidote to her midlife crisis in the arms of Tom (Shaun Evans), a studly young American. But when he snubs her for a girl his age, Julia masterminds a fantastic revenge using her gifts as a thespian.
About the script: Harwood’s script easily moves between drama (Julia mourns her lost youth) and witty comedy (her one-liners would make Dorothy Parker jealous).
Biggest challenge: “In the novella there’s a lot of flashbacks to Julia’s young days in the theater,” says Harwood, “and that would be entirely impossible and boring in a film.” So he created a person with whom Julia could reminisce about the past: her stage mentor (Michael Gambon).
Breakthrough idea: Early on, Julia can’t remember Tom’s name, so she asks him how he spells it. “T-O-M,” he replies smugly. “That was a breakthrough,” says Harwood, “because it gave me the idea for the end of the film,” a crowdpleasing scene of comeuppance where name-spelling plays a pivotal role. “It sounds small, but those things are very important when you’re writing.”
Standout scene: Julia’s teenage son Roger (Tom Sturridge) tells her he’s lost his virginity. “It makes me feel so old,” Julia says, crying. Roger tries to comfort her by quoting Shakespeare: “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.” His mother replies, “If I’d been Cleopatra, I would’ve put whoever said that to death.”
Choice lines: While at a posh restaurant, Julia is approached by a snide woman from her childhood. “Your father was a doctor, wasn’t he?” the woman sneers. Julia responds, “Actually, he was a vet. He used to go to your house to deliver the bitches — the house was full of them.”
Writer’s bio: Ronald Harwood is a playwright (“The Dresser,” “The Statement”); a novelist; and the author of “All the World’s a Stage,” a history of the theater. He won the Oscar for his screenplay of “The Pianist.”