Professor Marston & The Wonder Women is a film directed by Angela Robinson, starring Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote.
This biopic is centered around William “Bill” Moulton Marston, the American psychologist who put his progressive ideals about female liberation into practice, creating the DC superhero Wonder Woman and living in an “extended relationship” with his wife and another woman. The film frames the story of this throuple within Bill Marston’s defense of the overly sexual undertones of his Wonder Woman comic to Josette Frank, the director of children’s books and mass media for the Child Study Association of America. Throughout the defense, Bill recalls the two inspiring leading ladies in his life in a series of flashbacks.
Bill Marston as a character is a charming, intelligent professor who holds dear to his opinions on women, sexuality, and freedom. He spends days in the lecture hall with his equally brilliant and brash wife, fellow psychologist Elizabeth, while they pass their nights developing a lie detector machine. They hire Olive Byrne as their assistant, who is kindhearted with a dark underbelly. The trio falls into a polyamorous relationship, which was definitely a taboo in the 1940s. This relationship becomes more taboo when dominant/submissive aspects are layered on, evolving into the foundation of Wonder Woman’s many early issues, which hinted at a kinkier premise.
Professor Marston is a sensual film in every way, and the three main actors use subtle cues to drive home their performances. Coy glances, gentle touches and wordless communications ratchet up that sensuality. But underneath it, you feel that their relationship goes beyond sexual thrills alone. They truly found a love that worked for them, albeit in the wrong era.
The standout scenes occur when Rebecca Hall and Bela Heathcote interact. Olive’s need for approval from Elizabeth establishes that their love is the core of the throuple (in real life, both women lived together after Bill Marston passed away). It’s a joy to see two different types of women onscreen demonstrating autonomy and sexually engaged with each other. The beginning of the film may give some the idea that Bill wants to have his cake and eat it, so to speak. Rest assured that, even when Bill is not around, Olive and Elizabeth are in a relationship and in love. Director Angela Robinson is the reason for this, and her nuanced voice as a Black lesbian female director shines throughout. It is especially clear during those Olive/Elizabeth interactions, whether they be physical or verbal.
For viewers who are looking to get a deep dive into Wonder Woman’s origin, Marston’s time as a comic book writer does not emerge until the last third of the film. For some, this may be a negative, especially since the film about the comic book superhero had a good year. However, we do see nods to physical characteristics of Wonder Woman throughout the entire film through Olive and Elizabeth. They range from subtle to blatant as the film progresses, and the viewers receive a payoff from all the teasing in one particular scene.
Professor Marston & The Wonder Women is sexy, bold, and surprising from start to finish. The strong relationship development is what makes the film interesting. Add in the comic nods and great performances by the cast and you’ve got a film that’s a spankin’ (pun intended) good time.