Elizabeth Taylor is the kind of actress that could easily qualify as the number one representative of classic Hollywood stardom and financial success. Along with her considerable attributes as a businesswoman and humanitarian, Elizabeth Taylor was a stunning beauty.
Taylor got her start as a child actress and her big break starring in the movie National Velvet. As an adult, she appeared in roles in which her beauty certainly did her no harm.
However, Taylor was not content to play parts based on beauty alone. Nothing proved this to the world with more force than her appearance in the movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? In it, she costars with her on-again, off-again husband, Richard Burton, as a married couple caught in a marital crisis. Burton plays George, an associate history professor at a small New England college. Taylor plays, Martha, the university president’s daughter. Cozy!
And speaking of cozy, the movie starts with George and Martha walking home from a party. Turns out Martha invited a young couple to their house for an after-party drink (or two or three). When Martha and George enter the house, Taylor does her best Bette Davis impression! 🙂
The couple eventually arrive: Nick (played by George Segal), a biology professor and Honey, his wife (played by Sandy Dennis). And when everyone’s settled in for a drink, George and Martha proceed to tear each other to shreds—verbally.
The cozy after-party get-together turns distinctly sour as Nick and Honey watch Martha taunt George viciously and repeatedly for his inadequacies, while he responds with passive aggression.
However, George can remain passive for only so long. He and Martha end up screaming at each other in the parking lot of a roadhouse (where this cozy party moves at one point). This shouting match culminates in a declaration of “total war”.
In the course of the evening, various secrets are revealed about both couples. Martha even turns her scorn on Nick, with whom she attempts to have a drunken fling. Unfortunately for her, Nick can’t seem to
get it up perform. He blames this on excessive drink. Martha sneers at this excuse and dismisses him as a “houseboy”.
Taylor plays the role with such passion and ambandon that the performance would be outright comical if she weren’t portraying a woman burdened with so much emotional baggage.
Of course, the biggest, most painful secret of all is reserved for the climactic ending.
This movie is positively gut-wrenching to watch. At the same time, it can be bizarrely funny. It is, without a doubt, Elizabeth Taylor’s boldest and bravest performance. In order to play the role of Martha convincingly, Taylor gained weight, wore a wig, and was made up to look old and tired—a complete departure from her public image as a glamorous star. She also received the best reviews of her career for this role, which earned her a second Oscar award.
The fact that Taylor was willing and able to take a part like this proves the depth of her acting abilities and her devotion to the craft. And while Elizabeth Taylor was spectacular in all her movies, I think she gave the performance of a lifetime in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?