Feud tells the marvellous true story of the legendary rivalry between Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) on the set of Oscar-nominated horror movie What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? as well as the events afterwards too. This series delves into how and why two loved actresses suffered sexism and ageism whilst struggling to work in the curtain call of their careers. Others around them had different motives for fuelling their feud, like Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) wanting the best film possible, AKA having them “at each other’s throats.” They fell prey to Hollywood’s Male Gaze and had to work hard in order to survive in Hollywood’s underbelly.
Created by Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story), Jaffe Cohen and Michael Zam, Feud: Bette And Joan follows screen legends Joan Crawford and Bette Davis on the set on what I’d call one of the best films of all time, let alone a masterfully made psychological thriller. Taking us behind the scenes of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, we are witness to what was happening in Hollywood at the time, including a brilliantly douchebag-esque Jack Warner telling director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina) to keep the stars hating each other so Warner Bros Studios gets the best movie possible which meant making millions off the backs of an unhealthy relationship.
Narrated by Olivia de Havilland (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Joan Blondell (Kathy Bates) via TV interviews in 1978, we are witness to all fronts of Crawford and Davis from the perspectives of the two interviewees, as well as other characters of the Golden Age, like gossip columnist Hedder Hopper (Judy Davis), Baby Jane co-star Victor Buono (Dominic Burgess), Davis’ daughter B.D Merill (Kieran Shipka) and Warner Bros Studios boss Jack Warner (Tucci). “Look, we don’t have to be best pals, we just have to be allies for this picture to be a success” says Bette. And Baby Jane showed that a cast doesn’t have to hunky dory to make a great film.
By midway through my binge, I was floored. By the end of the season finale, I was out for the count. Typically, shows like this will have that ‘oh so comical’ Hollywood camp and humour. There are one liners in every nook and cranny, and the Crawford-Davis pair have their fair share of witty banter. “I’ve got great tits, too, but I don’t throw them in everyone’s face” says Crawford about Marilyn Monroe. Davis will stop at nothing to expose the imperfections in Crawford’s character. “Lose the shoulder pads and cut back on the lipstick. You’re playing a recluse who hasn’t seen the sun for twenty years, for Christ’s sake.” Countless times, I was in hysterics!
“Please escort Miss Davis back to her dressing room so she can work on her character” says Crawford. Davis takes this to heart. Crawford was jealous of Davis’ one to one sessions with director Aldrich (Molina) so she confronts her co-star. I’ve learned from my time with American Horror Story nobody can drop the mic like Jessica Lange. But Sarandon knows how to reply to epic mic drops too. Even though Baby Jane was supposed to be strange, Davis took it one step further by making an entrance onto the set in white power make-up saying “Hello daddy” only to be applauded by the crew. Movie magic for sure, but Crawford took it as a spurn.
Well, Lange and Sarandon. What a pair! They are Crawford and Davis through and through. Much alike the legends they are playing, Lange and Sarandon are character actors giving performances that will be indelibly stained on my mind forever. Davis was a “broad” and she is every bit the eccentric character Bette Davis was described as by those who knew her, including the imitation of the star’s famous voice and mannerisms. Lange is doing something amazing too. Despite Crawford being typecast as a ‘lady’, from the cattiness to the bitchiness (on and off-set), Lange is Crawford. If Lange and Sarandon do not receive Emmy-nods, I might kick someone in the head… wink wink.
Lange and Sarandon in Feud are dancing and always taking turns on who should be the lead. Yet, they’re always in sync with one another. They force the best performance out of the other pushing the other to up their game. It’s all in the chase. They strive to be the best actresses they can be in a male-centric Hollywood but they never strive to overshadow the other. They are one unit, despite their hatred for each other. “You know, they only made one film together and how that happened, and what happened afterwards, well. Well, that was a story and a feud of biblical proportions” says de Havilland, and they’re electric.
Judy Davis (Hedder Hopper), Jackie Hoffman (Mamacita), Stanley Tucci (Jack Warner), Alison Wright (Pauline Jameson) and Alfred Molina (Robert Aldrich) lead the brilliant supporting cast. All of them have their epic moments, with Tucci and Hoffman having my favourites. “You want me to work with her again? Are you fucking crazy? Never. Never again. That cunt” says Jack Warner on Joan Crawford. There’s not a person in Hollywood who doesn’t have a story to tell about Joan Crawford. She may be “the most beautiful woman in Hollywood” but that doesn’t mean she’s not a pain in the ass to work with, especially when she doesn’t get her way.
So Downton comes to the set of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane and it’s an insight into the glamour of the Hollywood lifestyle. From the politics to the cat fights to the double dealing studios, Feud is more than brilliant. It’s my favourite show of the year. I hear next season will follow Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. After this series and Netflix’s The Crown, I can hardly wait for more bitchiness of the class-obsessed feuds of western culture.