Warning: This post contains mild spoilers.
Last night, Feud: Bette and Joan premiered on FX. I tuned a tiny bit late and missed most of the opening credits, but did catch enough to immediately recognize that they were paying homage to Saul Bass in the credits. Nice touch, I thought. Fortunately, they replayed the episode immediately after, so I got to catch the credits in all of their pictographic splendor. Wow, perfect.
I honestly can't say how many liberties they took with story, but mostly it rang true. I heard on twitter some people saying they didn't like the interview sections with Olivia de Havilland (Katherine Zeta Jones) and Joan Blondell (Kathy Bates). The only thing that I thought seemed wrong was Olivia de Havilland saying that Bette Davis had "a ballsy intensity." While a true statement, I don't see de Havilland phrasing it that way, at least, not on camera.
One friend thought the interviews were unnecessary, but that didn't bother me. I just looked at them as a plot device to introduce some of the backstory on the decades-long Crawford-Davis feud. I figure that most people watching Feud: Bette and Joan probably haven't seen What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, much less know the background of Crawford and Davis.
The one plot point I wondered about was, it showed Joan Crawford buying numerous novels in search of a good vehicle for her. She finds the novel What Ever Happened to Baby Jane and takes it to director Robert Aldrich. I did some research and couldn't find any evidence of it going down that way, but that doesn't necessarily mean it didn't.
I don't want to go to deeply into the plot, but there were some great little details. One that jumps to mind is the contrast between the morning rituals of the two stars. Joan wakes up and does her morning facial of ice and witch hazel, while Bette reaches for a cigarette and lighter almost before her eyes are open.
I guess I shouldn't worry about whether the show took liberties and just concentrate on whether it worked for me. The bottom line is, it did. I loved it. I thought Jessica Lange was perfect as Joan Crawford and Susan Sarandon equally good as Bette Davis. Here were two women who refused to lie down and accept their fate, of declining/nonexistent roles for older actresses. They went out and did great work and opened the doors for their contemporaries to do likewise. The series captures this.
If the first episode is any indication, Feud: Bette and Joan should prove to be a fun ride. I'm all in. And if a show like this can draw a new audience to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane and the larger works of Joan Crawford (The Women, Mildred Pierce) and Bette Davis (Now Voyager, All About Eve), that can't help but be a good thing for classic film.