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Review: Despite Leaden Direction, ‘Professor Marston’ is Utterly Fascinating

The woman next to me, in her early 30s I’d guess, let out such a solid groan about 90 seconds into this bio-pic that I placed a bet that she would be gone within the hour. But like me she stuck it out. Despite the lame score, the often leaden direction and the comic sex scenes, the story of Professor William Marston, his wife Elizabeth Holloway, their lover Olive Byrne, and the resulting creation of the Wonder Woman comic, is utterly fascinating.

William and Elizabeth were a formidable team of psychologists with an interest in sexuality, which remarkably leads them to invent the lie-detector, though sadly they forgot to file a patent to cash in. The detector plays a big part in the movie and eventually in the rope that Wonder Woman uses to extract truth from evil doers, but the contraption is a famously blunt tool, and binary answers are the last thing suggested by the material which is complex to say the least.

The trio’s unorthodox relationship (Olive was William’s student) becomes a scandal and they get the boot from academia. The eventual creation of Wonder Woman the comic book, in 1941, has its roots in that relationship and with Marston’s social theories, taste for bondage and desperation to earn a crust. The early frames of the comic are famously raunchy and queer as hell, leading to outrage, censorship and book burnings.

Feminism, fetishism, free love and good old fashioned family dysfunction make for an ambitious undertaking, one which the film ultimately fumbles, rendering the lurid frames of possibility that leap from those early comic pages into something more beige. But what a story.

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