Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Year: 1966
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Mike Nichols
Writer: Edward Albee/Ernest Lehman
Cast: Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, George Segal

This is a far cry from the sort of movie you usually equate the black and white era with, so full of bitterness, sharp performance and acerbic wit it surpasses even plenty of movies from the indie/Sundance school of filmmaking of today.

The reason is because it's based on a successful and smart play and was the feature debut of Mike Nicholls, the director behind clever films like The Graduate to Charlie Wilson's War.

It's the swinging sixties in America where the country was starting to lose the innocence of the apple pie post-war boom period and the good times had become sullied by middle class angst fuelled by alcohol and boredom.

One wonders how autobiographical the film was for twice-married stars Burton and Taylor as George and Martha as they throw stinging verbal barbs back and forth that are as sharp as spears.

It's late at night when the married couple stumble home through their university town after a drinks party when Martha announces the arrival of surprise guests despite the ungodly hour, the bright young professor and his pretty wife.

The pair seem to have only one language left, and that's hatred, tenderness trying to show through but their more instinctive reaction to each other taking over.

When the visitors arrive George and Martha recruit them as unwitting weapons in their ongoing war, and while the party moves from the house to a dance hall and back again, even the young professor (an early turn from Segal) and his wife are affected by the couple's love/hate relationship.

It challenged several censorship norms at the time because of the language and subject matter (which may or may not include the suicide of the George and Marth'a son – you're never sure if it happened or they just made it up to taunt each other with).

In the end however, the film's biggest surprise might be that hate is the only way they know to relate to each other and is actually the only version of love they have left despite all their threats and torment.

Almost everyone involved won an Oscar, and deservedly so.

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