Book vs Movie: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was on my reading list for a very long time. I recently signed out a copy from the library and within a couple of days of reading the famous play I also watched the film version directed by Mike Nichols and starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

To give you some background, the play opened in New York in 1962 and closed two years later after 664 performances. The movie came out in 1966 and went on to earn 13 Oscar nominations. It was actually the first movie to be nominated for every category in which it was eligible.

Elizabeth Taylor’s performance in the movie is perfect. While reading the play, I found her character, Martha, to be mostly annoying, but in the film she was so flawed and sad that it hurt to watch her. And of course she was so ridiculously gorgeous that she even looked good mowing down on cold fried chicken standing in her dirty, neglected kitchen.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf chicken gif

The play and the film are incredibly similar, which is probably why Edward Albee liked the movie so much (except for its overuse of over-head shots).  The main difference between the two versions is that while the play is set entirely at George and Martha’s house, the film ventures out to other locations and even includes a few other minor characters. It is definitely more awkward to watch the scenes unfold than to read them on the page. I’ve never seen a live performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf but after reading the play and seeing the film I’d be curious to see how different actors would make this memorable story come to life. I find it hard to believe that anyone could do it better than Burton & Taylor, though. But I’ve been wrong before.

Side note: Neither the play nor the movie has anything to do with Virginia Woolf, but if you’re quick you can spot the copy of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse on the bookshelf above the liquor bottles in the film version.

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