FEUD kicked off with a double bill: double the camp, the Hollywood backstabbing and fun as we watch the antics of two formidable actresses - Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon), as they co-star in camp horror classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
There are lots of touches here that will be a treat for fans of Classic Hollywood, starting with the Saul Bass-inspired opening credits. The whole show looks like an artificial Hollywood set, with mini recreations of Crawford and Davis on screen in various films.
The story of Joan vs Bette is framed by a fictional 1970s documentary in which Olivia de Havilland (Catherine Zeta Jones) and Joan Blondell (Kathy Bates) are being interviewed about the feud. Whilst the studio turned actresses into cash cows who were eventually put out to pasture, director and co-writer Ryan Murphy show how they fought against this.
As Joan says within the first five minutes, ‘Men may have built the pedestal but it’s the women who keep chipping away at it, until it comes tumbling down’. To avoid the decline of her career, Joan has a plethora of beauty rituals in order to fight off age; one of the oddest being squeezing lemons on her elbows.
One of the most enjoyable of the many trivial highlights is watching Judy Davis as Hedda Hopper, gossip columnist and wit, swooping around in various ridiculous hats, like a hawk ready to pounce on any juicy news. There’s also lots of Pepsi (Joan’s husband was CEO of Pepsi and she became Pepsi Ambassador upon his death).
At times, the writing is a bit clunky in getting information across, such as when Joan tells Jack Warner: ‘Here’s my Oscar which I won in 1945 for Mildred Pierce’. Presumably most of the audience has some awareness of who Crawford and Davis are and if not, have access to Wikipedia.
Lange and Sarandon give equally strong performances. Sarandon conveys the bug-eyed lunacy with which Bette played Baby Jane and Lange shows Crawford’s overwroughtness (thankfully not her shoulder pads).
In episode 2, we learn more about why Bette and Joan didn’t like each other and the game playing begins. Director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina, squirming like a worm) is persuaded by movie mogul Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) to feed lies to the newspapers to build the tension between Crawford and Davis. This then starts a rumour war as Joan and Bette begin planting false stories about each other in Hollywood gossip columns. Hedda also wears more horrible hats.
You really need to watch some of Davis and Crawford’s performances in order to get the most out of Feud, but the grotesquerie and campness plus the hot-button topic should pull in viewers. As BBC now seems to be adopting Netflix’s box set model, binge on the nightmares behind the dream factory as all eight episodes are now on BBC IPlayer.
- Aired on BBC2, December 16 2017 at 21:00.