Power of Three

Written by Jason Solomons

Here’s a strange little story that throws misty light on one of the enduring – indeed dominant – feminist icons of our age: Wonder Woman. Not so long ago in these pages, I objected to the film Goodbye Christopher Robin for tweely revealing the miserable real-life tale behind the enchanting Winnie the Pooh stories. However, this new film, written and directed by Angela Robinson, digs deep into the human psyche to tell me something completely new about the genesis of a pop icon, an origins story well worth hunting down.

Wonder Woman is, of course, the most popular female superhero ever, in comics and, more recently, on screen in blockbuster form, with its female director Patty Jenkins becoming the highest-paid and highest-grossing female filmmaker ever. Who knew that we, and she, had to thank a Harvard professor of psychology, his wife and their comely intern for it all?

Luke Evans plays William Marston who, teaching with his wife Elizabeth (the always intriguing Rebecca Hall) at Radcliffe in the late 1920s, take in a pretty student, Olive (Bella Heathcote), as part of an experiment in beauty. They both fall for her, using their feelings for Olive as the basis for testing Marston’s newly invented lie detector. The needle goes off the charts.

Amid the steamy sexiness of this trio, Marston puts to the test his theories of dominance and submissiveness, which all sounds very kinky. That’s because it is. I mean, I knew Wonder Woman was sexy, with the outfit, the bangles, the tiara and all, but I never quite realised it all came from bondage costumes that Marston discovered in a Greenwich Village lingerie store in 1940.

Meanwhile, Marston and the two women – fired from their university positions – try to maintain a veneer of suburban respectability, living as a threesome, all sleeping together and practising naughty little dress-up games in the parlour. Until the new neighbour pops in with a welcome casserole. Here’s a hotpot she didn’t count on. Impecunious, Marston gives up trying to publish his psychology books and sublimates his creativity and sexual theory into the subversive comic strip of Suprema The Wonder Woman, finding a vaguely sympathetic publisher, played by Oliver Platt.

However, the cartoons of Amazon Wonder Woman tying people up with her lasso, her constant domination and pan-sexual violence soon have him hauled in front of the National Decency League, which doesn’t want Americans influenced by such thoughts, ordering Marston and his publisher to ‘cut out the kink’.

Too late for me, I’m afraid. I was hooked. I blame Linda Carter on the TV on the Saturday nights of my childhood. But I never knew it was really all about Marston and his
two lovers, a real-life story the film brings to delightful dramatic life. In case of some concerns, it should be noted that the film is very tasteful in its depictions (all the sexier for it, too) and all three
actors are excellent. Yet for all the psychology and secrecy it remains a very playful film, and often surprisingly funny in its naughtiness, comparing the transgressive threesome against a backdrop of prohibition America with its sense of moral outrage.

Despite many a teenage reverie, I didn’t know anything about Wonder Woman’s real origins, and the now-customary epilogue, with faded photos of the real people involved, only adds to the wonder, particularly with the continuing story of Elizabeth and Olive. Super indeed.