Feud: Capote vs The Swans

Feud: Capote vs The Swans

If you have seen one of the promos for Feud: Capote vs The Swans you may have noticed it refers to “the original Housewives,” which struck me as a fairly simplistic take on Truman Capote’s delicate relationship with New York society women in the 1960s.

But I get it. From a marketing perspective it instantly communicates the tone of what you’re in for from Ryan Murphy’s second anthology season.

Now having commenced the series, it’s actually spot on for episode 3 under director Gus van Sant, who breaks from the naturalistic style of episodes 1 and 2, to adopt a kind of cinéma vérité approach as Truman plots a grand masquerade ball in NYC. It’s an event full of petty rivalries, glamour and mischief, presented through the lens of a documentary Capote was making with filmmakers Albert and David Maysles.

In Feud it is recreated with the spectacular cast, led by Tom Hollander as Capote, and the dazzling women who make up the ‘swans’: Naomi Watts, Diane Lane, Chloë Sevigny, Calista Flockhart, Demi Moore, Molly Ringwald. They have meltdowns, break the fourth wall to speak to camera, contain their jealousies (or at least attempt to), and dress in fabulous gowns. Yes, you could indeed be watching Real Housewives of New York Circa 1966.

Such is the fascination with Feud: Capote vs The Swans, that the execution and performances are so fabulously distracting that you can easily be taken out of its universe. The foreground often upstages the story.

Tom Hollander brilliantly undertakes the role of the American writer, previously portrayed on screen by the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toby Jones and Robert Morse. Capote is eccentric, camp, gifted and possibly polarising for many viewers unfamiliar with his place in modern American history.

Surrounding him are the ‘swans’ of the story, scripted by Jon Robin Baitz and based on a book by Laurence Leamer.

Naomi Watts stars as Barbara “Babe”, chain-smoking wife of CBS founder and philanderer William S. Paley (Treat Williams), to whom Capote is magnetically attracted for her beauty, mind, glamour and style. The two form an intimate bond built around society parties, alcohol, cigarettes, long lunches, gossip and scintillating advice.

“My God he’s dazzling. Invite him to everything we ever have” -William.

Babe’s society friends are equally besotted by Capote’s acidic humour and counsel. They include Slim Keith (Lane), C.Z. Guest (Sevigny) and Lee Radziwill (Flockhart).

Less captivated is socialite Ann Woodward (Demi Moore) who is under suspicion of murdering her husband, and whom Capote intends to expose. Molly Ringwald also features as Joanne Carson, wife of television’s Johnny, whose home is where Capote dined and wrote, if challenged by writers’ block.

Also featuring is Russell Tovey as a closeted encounter turned toyboy.

“Write about the world you’re showing me….that lunch is gold… all of it. Nobody can show us these women Truman, how they really are” – John.

The Feud of the title centres around Capote’s irresistable urge to write about the women and all their character flaws with his poisonous pen, some of which is published in Esquire magazine. It’s enough to turn the women against him and unleash their group revenge.

“He got it right about all of us, but mostly me…I turned to him for love, this homosexual court jester singing for his supper” – Babe.

“We stand united and we destroy him” – Slim.

Icing him out is devastating to Capote, denied his dance card to their society soirees.

“I keep trying to apologise but she won’t take my calls.” -Capote.

In addition to the star turns, notably Hollander, Watts and an unrecognisable Demi Moore, the production design is exquisite, recreating New York in the ’60s. Characters collide in the finest mansions and apartments, indulge in fabulous restaurants and ballrooms, dress in high fashions … yes it really is a Real Housewives forerunner.

Yet the performances become the reason to watch Feud, which wasn’t necessarily the only driver for the tempestuous first season of Feud: Bette and Joan. At 8 episodes I fear this could outstay its essay on why gay men are so drawn to glamorous women (and vice versa) and the consequences of betrayal. But damn, we will have some high times getting there.

Feud: Capote vs The Swans will surely be nominated for acting, direction, production design, if not necessarily a complete triumph for the sum of its parts.

Oh and there’s one more star cameo from Episode Two I daren’t spoil…

Feud: Capote vs The Swans is now screening weekly on Binge and 9:30pm Thursdays on Showcase.