“I assure you, I would never try to be heroic.”
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary points out that this movie allowed Fonda “another chance to play a woman who becomes politicized and who has a special bond with another woman”; he notes that you can “see the love these women have for each other”, and argues that “the most interesting point of the film” — given that “it breaks with movie stereotyping” — is how “being a leftist has not deprived Julia of her warmth, her humility, and her concern for people like Lillian who are not as politically dedicated as she is”. Regarding their special relationship, some have taken issue with the fact that the theme of lesbianism in the play (The Children’s Hour) Hellman is seen slaving over in her Cape Cod beach house — where she’s mentored by her older lover, Dashiell Hammett (Jason Robards) — is never openly discussed. While there is a later scene in which a character (John Glover) mentions the “gossip” surrounding the play, some critics believe a chance is missed to more concretely connect the play’s theme of strong female friendship and accused lesbianism with Lillian and Julia’s own story of intense love and devotion.
However, while those familiar with Hellman’s work may find deeper meaning in these earlier scenes, those viewing the film without such literary insight will still appreciate the fact that Fonda’s character is not only being asked to risk her life to help Julia’s cause, but to leave behind a clearly defined world of newfound fame and fortune — thus highlighting the magnitude of her “sacrifice”. Oscar-winning screenwriter Alvin Sargent incorporates just enough flashback scenes from Lillian and Julia’s youth to help us understand why Lillian would feel such intense loyalty for her friend; and while some complain that the title character (Redgrave won an Oscar for her supporting work) is on screen far too little, I believe this merely adds to one’s sense of her commitment to a world far, far removed from the comforts of Hellman’s existence. The climactic train journey into Berlin is especially well-handled, nicely highlighting the magnitude of the dangers Fonda is exposing herself to — and while it may or may not have happened to Hellman herself, it certainly makes for good storytelling.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: