Feud. Television Review.

Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating * * * * *

Cast: Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, Judy Davies, Jackie Hoffman, Alfred Molina, Stanley Tucci, Alison Wright, Catherine Zeta Jones, Dominic Burgess, Joel Kelley Daunton, Kathy Bates, Kiernan Shipka, Molly Price, Serinda Swann, Sarah Paulson.

In many ways Hollywood has not changed a single bit since someone put up a soundstage, started the cameras rolling for the first time and a voice in the background shouted out with a booming voice, action. Men have always called the shots, it isn’t right, it can be downright obscene and for many, change has just not happened quickly enough.

In some respects though the golden age of Hollywood and the film industry at large had one redeeming feature, that of the strong woman at the head of a motion picture, never mind the gruff American idol of Clark Gable, look to Vivien Leigh’s startling performance as Scarlet O’ Hara and the marvellous Olivia de Havilland as Melanie Hamilton in Gone With the Wind, take in the majesty of Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, Bette Davis in The Little Foxes and what you have is for a short time, a woman holding the attention of the world, mesmerising, intelligent and in some cases, playing brutal parts. Roles and characters that arguably took their toll, a heavy price extracted in many ways as they succumbed to the male ego, the demands of the inequality placed on the psyche of women as they could not get the parts from the studios when they got to a certain age.

Feud is a piece of television history, it eagerly and with a great deal of passion tackles gossip, salaciousness, the more than unequivocal truth and dysfunctional relationship dynamic between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and their near side show extravaganza of players. This is the perfect example of a feud, not one of absolute hate, if only it were that simple, if only it could be reduced to wanting to destroy someone so bad that it would be done in the flash of a blade. This is a feud born of resentment, always wanting to be on top, to be the very best in the quarrel, the constant sniping, it is an enjoyment in the battle at hand and makes their 1962 film Whatever Happened To Baby Jane look like the adventures of girl scouts and brownies on their first trip to the seaside.

It is a feud arguably perpetuated by men also, and yet when it all came down it; Ms. Davis and Ms. Crawford were more than willing participants of the psychological battle orchestrated by Jack Warner and to a lesser extent, more of an unwilling soldier but still shouldering the blame, Robert Aldrich.

To capture the essence of two of the most important women of their time on screen is a difficult, a near Sisyphus like stance, and yet both Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon triumph with genuine appreciation for the two women they portray; they exude the rawness of the relationship’s hostility with such vigour that they make the whole series one of definition and absolute drama.

Feud is by its very nature, immense, calculating and chilling, aside from Ms. Lange and Ms. Sarandon, Alfred Molina, Judy Davies and Stanley Tucci give the film the sensational gravitas it requires to pay homage to two queens of the golden age of Hollywood and Catherine Zeta Jones and Serinda Swan as Olivia de Havilland and the erstwhile Anne Bancroft give the eight part thrilling tale the reflection of spirit it deserves.

Ms. Swann especially, despite being in the series for only one scene, highlights the evolving attitude of women to do with those that have caused them to doubt themselves in the film industry, who like Faye Dunaway, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Pam Grier, Julie Christie and Nichelle Nichols, were able to start a movement to which is coming rightfully to its fruition today.

Hollywood fuels the stakes of any Feud, it is good for show business and the column inches, however the long term damage it did to both Ms. Davis and Ms. Crawford is almost incalculable; the one vulture snip at a time will always do more damage than the outright kill.

Ian D. Hall