Tom and Viv is based on the play by Michael Hastings and stars Academy Award nominees Willem Dafoe and Miranda Richardson in the title roles. It tells the story of the union of T.S. Eliot and Vivienne Haigh-Wood whose romance, like that of Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel, failed to equal their strong artistic collaboration.
Tom and Viv met at Oxford in 1914 and embarked on a whirlwind courtship which concluded in their elopement. The tow were from two different worlds and sought, through each other, a departure from their present circumstances. Viv offered Tom an entry point into a respectable English family, while Viv sough, through Tom, and exit from the "stuffy, superficial" quality of her world.
Wood was a truth seeker whose anti-establishment views and strong personality were not in keeping with the ideal for a woman of her era. Add to that her debilitating hormonal imbalance which was exacerbated by the ineffective medical treatments (Morphine, ether and alcohol-based tonics) and you've got a character that society labeled "morally insane." She was involuntarily committed to an insane asylum. Once institutionalized, she had no right of appeal and was at the mercy of her guardians (Eliot and her brother, Maurice) to petition for her release. In the decade that she spent in the asylum, neither of the two men eve intervened on her behalf nor did they follow her treatment history or state of mind through the years.
Richardson was the first choice for the role of Viv, Director Brian Gilbert elaborates. "Miranda has that capacity to be both strong and very weak..."
Dafoe is also excellent as Eliot, an extremely formal man who was considered "the only man to wear a four-piece suit." Dafoe initially considered himself too unlike Eliot to effectively portray him but was happy to immerse himself in Eliot's character.
Rosemary Harris is wonderful as Viv's mother, Rose Haigh-Wood.
Through telling the intimate story of Eliot's first marriage, Hastings feels that he has gained new insight into the literary legend. The story reveals Eliot to be, in Hastings' words, "a very vulnerable soul who was deeply marked by an extraordinary relationship." Much as Eliot firmly believed in the separation between artist and his art, it is apparent that he was very much inspired by the passion and turmoil he experienced.
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