Professor Marston & The Wonder Women

Here’s a strange little story that throws misty light on one of the enduring – indeed dominant – feminist icons of our age: Wonder Woman.

Recently, I objected to the film Goodbye Christopher Robin for revealing – so damn coyly, too –  the miserable real-life tale behind Winnie The Pooh. 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, even if it may not be entirely true to the facts.

Wonder Woman is, of course, the most popular female super hero ever, in comics and, this year, on screen in blockbuster form, with its female director Patty Jenkins becoming the highest-paid and highest-grossing woman film maker ever.

Who knew that we and she had to thank a horny 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 the social effects of beauty. They both fall for her, and use their hidden feelings for Olive as a test ground for Marston’s newly-invented lie detector. The needle goes off the charts.

Amid the panting sexiness of this threesome, 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 Marston discovered in a Greenwich Village lingerie store in 1940.

Meanwhile, Marston, Elizabeth and Olive  – fired from their university positions – try and maintain a veneer of suburban respectability, having children while living as a threesome, all sleeping together and practising naughty little dress-up sex games in the parlour. Until the new neighbour pops in with a welcome hot pot.

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 Amazonian Wonder Woman tying people up with her lassoo, her constant domination and pan-sexual violence soon have him – and DC comics – hauled in front of the National Decency League who naturally don’t want America’s children influenced by such thought, ordering Marston and his publisher to “cut out the kink”.

Too late for me, I’m afraid. I was hooked. I blame Lynda Carter on the TV on the Saturday nights of my childhood, but she was tame compared to this original 40s comic strip. 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. It should be noted the film is very tasteful in its depictions (all the sexier for it, I reckon) and all three actors are excellent at handling the latent desires and impulses, shooting glances and succumbing to guilty pleasures.

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. It’s really asking: who are the real perverts here?

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 (far less photogenic) real people involved, only adds to the wonder, particularly with the continuing story of Elizabeth and Olive and the suppression of the original comic. Super, indeed.

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