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Strong Cast Carries 'Julia'

By Justin Rude
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page Y05

In the theater scene of 1930s London, a famous but aging actress seeks refuge from life's tedium in the arms of a man who could be her son. When the affair gets complicated, a story emerges of regret, jealousy and revenge.

The screenplay of "Being Julia," which was adapted from the W. Somerset Maugham novel "Theatre," is nothing exceptional. However, the film is lifted by its extraordinary cast, led by the incomparable Annette Bening, who received an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Julia Lambert. Bening is joined by the likes of Jeremy Irons and Michael Gambon, who help her turn what might have been a trifling confection of a film into something really enjoyable.

Director Istvan Szabo brings the theatrical world of London's West End to life with beautiful lighting, lush sets and marvelous costumes. The film's sparkle isn't lost on the DVD, either, as the film's sharp look and rich colors look great on this disc.

Unfortunately, the behind-the-scenes featurette and making-of documentary barely look at the film's costumes or how its sets were constructed. These features merely take a thin look at who the characters are and how the actors fell in love with the script. An audio commentary track with Szabo, Bening and Irons does reveal a lot about the inspirations for various sets and how the film was shot.

Yet the DVD could have been better if the extras had taken a closer look at the beautiful locations in Budapest where many of the restaurant and theater scenes were filmed, or focused on the West End theaters that inspired the movie.

Similarly disappointing are the deleted scenes that are presented in a block without context or description. DVD watchers won't understand why these scenes failed to make the cut, or even where the deleted material was originally intended to be seen in the film.

For those who enjoy the tale that unfolds, however, these omissions will seem minor. The screen magnetism of Bening and her peers ends up being more than enough reason to pick up "Being Julia."

Being Julia

Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment;

DVD $26.95; available Tuesday

New on DVD:

Bridget Jones -- The Edge of Reason (Universal Studios: DVD $29.98; VHS $23.98; R; available Tuesday) Renee Zellweger returns as the love-addled Londoner she made famous in the 2001 film "Bridget Jones's Diary." The DVD edition features director commentary, deleted scenes, the featurettes "Lonely London," "The Big Fight" and "Bridget Jones Interviews Colin Firth." And a quiz helps you answer the question: "Who's Your Man?"

Star Wars -- Clone Wars, Vol. 1 (Fox Home Entertainment: DVD $19.98; not rated; available Tuesday) Twenty animated shorts that originally aired on the Cartoon Network tell the story of the Clone War that occurred between "Star Wars Episode 2" and "Episode 3," the latter of which will be a theatrical release in May. Bonus features include commentary, a behind-the-scenes featurette, concept art and storyboards, and the featurette "Bridging the Saga: From Clone Wars to Revenge of the Sith," which has interviews with George Lucas. There's also a glimpse of the second volume of shorts now airing on Cartoon Network.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company