William Marston was a professor of psychology; his wife Elizabeth was an equally and likely superior mind, but being female, was relegated to assistantship. Professor Marston (Luke Evans) was developing lots of new ideas about behaviour, and had a new theory based on dominance, inducement, submission, and compliance. He and Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) were looking among their students for a young apprentice, and found what they were looking for and more in Olive (Bella Heathcote).
The Marstons both fell in love with her, and a polyamourous relationship was born. They had children together and continued to work and invent together – the modern lie detector test is thanks to them. But what may be most remarkable about this relationship, taboo and reviled in the 1930s and 40s, was that it inspired the creation of the Wonder Woman comic. Marston’s original stories (written under a pseudonym) incorporated the feminist ideals embodied by his wives. Wonder Woman was a strong woman who needed no man. His early comics also involved a fair amount of bondage and submission, which he pursued in his own bedroom and thought more young men should be turned onto. You can imagine the sort of censorship and uproar he faced.
With Wonder Woman so fresh in our cultural memories at the moment, it’s interesting to witness her birth, to see the surprising and sometimes literal inspirations that Marston drew upon. The performances are strong and the three have a nice chemistry that, despite accusations of “sexual perversity,” feels very honest and sometimes nearly wholesome. Rebecca Hall in particular shows the conflict and the consent and the curiosity that pushes her character toward an unconventional life. I must say, however, that I’m a little disappointed in the title. Though the film makes clear enough that Marston is bested by his lovers, they still seem to take second seat in this story, and that feels like a let down to our hero, and her real counterparts.