“…. [The filmmakers] trust the author’s memory, but can we? Who can believe in the Julia she describes—the ideal friend of her early youth, the beautiful, unimaginably rich Julia who never fails to represent the highest moonstruck ideals? If ever there was a character preserved in the amber of a girlhood crush, she’s it. The gallant, adventurous Julia opens the worlds of art and conscience to the worshipful Lillian. She recites poetry and is incensed at the ugliness of the social injustices perpetrated by her own family; she goes off to study at Oxford, then to medical school in Vienna, intending to work with Freud; she plunges inot the dangerous opposition to Hitler, writes letters to Lillian explaining the holocaust to come, and in the middle of it has a baby. This saintly Freudian Marxist queen, on easy terms with Darwin, Engels, Hegel, and Einstein, might have been a joke with almost anyone but Vanessa Redgrave in the role. Redgrave’s height and full figure have an ethereal, storybook wonder, and she uses some of the physical spaciousness that she had on the stage in The Lady from the Sea; she can be majestic more fluidly than anyone else (and there’s more of her to uncoil). She has a scene all bandaged up in a hospital bed; unable to speak, she points with maybe the most expressive huge hand the screen has ever known. She handles the American accent unnoticeably—it’s not that awful flat twang she used for Isadora. In close-ups, Vanessa Redgrave has the look of glory, like the young Garbo in Arnold Genthe’s portraits; her vibrancy justifies Lillian’s saying that she had “the most beautiful face I’d ever seen.” Redgrave is so well endowed by nature to play queens that she can act simply in the role (which doesn’t embody much screen time) and casually, yet lyrically, embody Lillian Hellman’s dream friend. Zinnemann has very astutely cast as the teen-age Julia a young girl (Lisa Pelikan) who’s like a distorted Vanessa Redgrave—a fascinating, dislikable, rather creepy look-alike, who suggests that the intellecual goddess didn’t appear out of a white cloud.
“It’s the dark cloud—Jane Fonda’s stubborn strength,… that saves the film from being completely pictorial….”
The New Yorker, October 10, 1977
Taking It All In, pp. 306-307