Film Review: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Batten down the hatches and prepare yourself for an emotional rollercoaster.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a 1966 film adaptation of Edward Albee’s 1962 play and is not for the
faint-hearted or for those looking for a light Romantic Comedy.
It is brash, gin-soaked and teeming with witty repartee and sexual innuendos. The explosive dynamic of
real life ex-spouses, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as Martha and George, is riveting and
intoxicating from the opening scene.
We're introduced to them as the married couple living near a college campus, where George is a History
Scholar and Martha's father is the President of the College. Immediately, we're hit with the friction
between them, owed to George's insecurities about his career status and Martha's overt sexuality and
constant need for attention.
They switch roles constantly throughout the film, varying from hero to martyr; so that the audience is
never quite sure who to root for, only that perhaps it should be neither of them. This becomes especially
true when another, younger couple get thrown into the mix (played by a young and dashing George
Segal and a perfectly waifish and naïve Sandy Dennis.) George and Martha use them as extra props as
the night draws on, in the ever-changing stage production that is their marriage.
They say that communication is the key to any good relationship and this film has it; in complicated,
passive aggressive buckets. Or rather, it is delivered in short, sharp exchanges between George and
Martha, most of which are insults:
"I swear, if you existed, I'd divorce you" and "Oh I like your anger. I think that’s what I like about you most."
Yet despite the venom they spit at each other and the copious amounts of drinking, the undercurrent of
George and Martha’s many exchanges appear to be of a collaborative nature that could even point
towards love. Passion is most definitely the fifth character in the film, be it lacking from the dark past of
the younger couple, or a vehicle for the obvious threat the younger husband poses to an older and more
It is a constant war of words, a battle between sexuality and power and watching alone forces you to
gasp for air and wonder about your own interactions with those that you hold most dear. Who's Afraid
of Virginia Woolf? is all at once a shocking and tantalising insight into the dysfunction of relationships,
the human psyche and the edges of reasonable thinking we push and can be pushed towards.
Like I said, this is not for the faint hearted, or the fearful.
Written by Maame Blue.
Posted on 06/12/2015
by Sue Cawte