The Untold Story of Dame Elizabeth Taylor
Many will likely be unaware of the tragedy that befell one of the landmark actresses in cinematic history, Elizabeth Taylor. A very confident creative team sought to bring this story to life in this serene short film. Led by the direction of Foster Wilson, written by and starring the lovely Grace Kendall, and remarkably well shot by Katharine White - this short film chronicles Dame Elizabeth Taylor as she fights through grief and hardship in the wake of her husband's tragic passing. The film in which she delivered one of her most iconic lines and battled her way to one of her greatest performances was in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Now, I'll dive into what makes this short film so effective and what sets it apart from most drama shorts.
Grace Kendall as Elizabeth Taylor
The highlight of this film is Grace Kendall's radiant performance as Elizabeth Taylor. She captures her essence so well and gives a layered and transformative performance. She not only nails the look of her, but she manages to lock down her mannerisms and expressions as well. What she is hiding beneath the surface on set is somber and heartbreaking, until finally peeling back the layers and revealing all in an emotionally vulnerable and transcendent scene in her dressing room about midway through the film. Kendall must bear it all when looking to her reflection for help, but will get none as she lets the emotions take hold and breaks down after all is too much to handle in the moment. The kinetic and dynamic performance by Kendall carries the film all the way through. We experience it all with her - the heartbreak, the attempt to hold it all together, and the strength she exhibits when regaining the courage to march back on set and deliver the performance she was always meant to give. This was not only entrancing for me to watch, but also highly educational as I was completely unaware that this had occurred. Aside from a film history lesson, I also learned that Grace Kendall has all the makings of a star and I have no doubt this short film will allow her to take the steps to get there.
Katharine White’s Cinematography
The film is beautifully shot by Katharine White and I was blown away from the very first shot. The film is very stark in its presentation as we hang on Taylor's (Kendall's) face throughout most of it. The camera movement is steady and confident as we move with Taylor for the vast majority of the film. The cinematography is also very intimate with plenty of honorable and admirable close ups of Taylor/Kendall. It makes sense as the film's focus is on her, but what I found really fascinating was the capturing of the male gaze of her. The crew was male dominated and there are remarkable shots of the men all laser focused on Taylor. What is also noteworthy is the lighting and the shadow used in the cinematography. Much of it is bright and radiant, much like Taylor is, but also - there is a shot when she is heading to her dressing room in which the light is beet red right on her, signifying the death and loss of her husband, Mike Todd. Once we do reach the dressing room, I loved the mirror shots used here. They were quite effective in communicating her struggle through her emotions in that moment. Additionally, the shots used later on accentuated her brave and courageous journey as she ventured on back up to that set and gave that tremendous performance.
Foster Wilson’s Direction
The assured direction from Foster Wilson is another strongpoint of this incredibly effective and affecting short film. Wilson not only had to direct Taylor's story as she goes back to her dressing room, but also she's directing a film within a film as well - which is equally impressive and no easy feat. I loved the choices to follow Taylor all the way back to the dressing room and stay on her. Our focus and attention never leaves her at any point throughout the story, even when the camera's off her. Wilson's directorial choices in the dressing room are also exceedingly effective and draw our eye to what is truly important. It's also worthy to note that it is far from easy just to direct one actor in a small space. Sure, it's difficult to direct a whole crew who is acting as a crew for a film within a film, but the intimate and personal moment with Taylor behind the curtain is delicate and must be handled correctly in order for the film as a whole to really work. Wilson has a keen eye for shots, set decoration, guiding performances, and using visuals and props to tell a story utilizing the cinematic language. Wilson, Kendall, and White all worked incredibly well together as a creative tandem to tell this story in the best way they know how, and to tell it effectively.
Carried by Grace Kendall's vibrant and transformative performance, Dame is a wholly effective and affecting short drama that brings to life a story about the legendary actress that many might find themselves ignorant to. Boasting gorgeous cinematography by Katharine White, the film expertly tells this deeply emotional story using the visual medium in ways only cinema can. Featuring assured direction by Foster Wilson, the story comes to life thanks to creative directorial choices that communicate to the viewer using beautifully transcendent cinematic language. As stated, the three work tremendously well as a creative team and I would very much look forward to their future collaborations. Overall, Dame is not only a visual treat, but it is also compulsory viewing for anyone fascinated by film history and fans of Elizabeth Taylor alike. The film works well as a mini biopic for that moment in Taylor's thespian career and is a wonderful showcase for Grace Kendall as a budding film star.
Dame is a drama short film I was able to catch via private screener on Vimeo. The short film is likely to gain distribution through other outlets and I will provide updates as to when it becomes readily available.