Feud: Capote vs. the Swans review: Naomi Watts is an answered prayer

Writers often find themselves drawn to the enigmatic figures within their own ranks, and few literary figures have captivated the imagination of storytellers quite like Truman Capote. From his groundbreaking work “In Cold Blood” to his tumultuous attempt to finish “Answered Prayers,” Capote’s life has been a wellspring of inspiration for films, plays, and documentaries. Among the latest explorations of his life is 2019’s “The Capote Tapes,” which delves into his struggles and failures.

Ryan Murphy’s “Feud” takes on a star-studded portrayal of Capote’s turbulent era, focusing on his public clashes with Manhattan’s elite, famously dubbed “the Swans.” “Capote vs. the Swans” aims to capture the essence of Capote’s world, a lofty and complicated realm where storytelling often takes a backseat to spectacle. Leading the charge is Naomi Watts, delivering an Emmy-worthy performance as Babe Paley, one of Capote’s closest confidantes.

Based on Laurence Leamer’s book “Capote’s Women” and adapted by playwright Jon Robin Baitz, “Feud” plunges viewers into the gloomy streets of 1968 New York. Here, we find Capote, portrayed by Tom Hollander, rushing to the side of his friend Babe Paley, portrayed by Watts. As Babe grapples with her husband’s infidelity, Capote offers solace and support, showcasing his trademark wit and charm in the face of adversity. It’s a snapshot of a moment in time, where friendships and alliances are tested against the backdrop of high society scandal.

Feud: Capote vs. the Swans

Seven years later, Capote’s explosive revelations in an excerpt from “Answered Prayers” send shockwaves through the upper echelons of New York society. Mortified by Capote’s betrayal, Babe Paley and her influential circle of friends, including Slim Keith, Lee Radziwill, and C.Z. Guest, banish him from their exclusive world. Over the course of its eight-episode season, “Feud” delves into Capote’s ascent to literary fame and social prominence following “In Cold Blood,” juxtaposed with his gradual descent into self-imposed isolation triggered by the fallout from “Answered Prayers” in 1975.

Their unlikely friendship blossoms from a chance encounter in 1955, where Capote predicts that he and Babe will become close friends. A master storyteller and avid listener, Capote captivates Babe and her elite circle, offering a respite from their husbands’ neglect. Despite Capote’s penchant for revealing the secrets of the wealthy elite, the Swans believe their confidences are safe with him.

“Feud” vividly portrays the dysfunctional dynamics within this exclusive coterie, particularly in the episode “Masquerade 1966.” Directed by Gus Van Sant and written by Jon Robin Baitz, this episode intertwines two significant events from Capote’s life that year: the documentary “With Love from Truman” and the infamous Black and White Ball. While the women don’t appear in the real documentary, “Feud” utilizes a vérité style to peel back the layers of their lives and expose Capote’s pivotal role. As the cameras capture intimate moments of vulnerability and manipulation, Capote orchestrates a delicate dance of flattery and charm, leaving each woman believing she will be the guest of honor at his iconic ball. However, as history reveals, this promise remains

Feud: Capote vs. the Swans

Truman Capote’s downward spiral and the fallout from his explosive revelations are central to the narrative of “Feud,” yet the series only scratches the surface of the underlying motivations behind his actions. Babe Paley, feeling betrayed by Capote’s thinly veiled disdain in his writing, confronts the uncomfortable truth that he views her and their social circle with disgust. However, Capote’s complex relationship with Babe is intertwined with his unresolved trauma stemming from his mother’s tragic death and his desire for vengeance.

Lillie Mae Faulk, portrayed with graceful disdain by Jessica Lange, represents the source of Capote’s deep-seated resentment toward the elite society that rejected her. Her haunting presence, appearing to Truman from beyond the grave, embodies the specter of his unresolved past and fuels his need for retribution.

While Capote’s friendship with Babe serves as the linchpin of the narrative, “Feud” meanders into tangential storylines of Capote’s eccentric exploits in the 1970s. From his role as an eccentric millionaire in Neil Simon’s “Murder By Death” to his involvement in Kerry O’Shea’s modeling career, these diversions detract from the core conflict. Even encounters with fellow literary figure James Baldwin serve as mere distractions, failing to delve into the deeper emotional turmoil plaguing Capote.

Throughout the series, Capote’s struggles with alcoholism exacerbate his tumultuous relationships and hinder his creative endeavors. Friends and confidants, including C.Z., Jack Dunphy, and Joanne Carson, express concern and exhaustion over Capote’s self-destructive patterns, pleading with him to break free from the cycle of addiction and turmoil. Yet, Capote remains ensnared in a relentless cycle of drama and despair, leaving those closest to him and viewers alike to question if he will ever find peace.

Feud: Capote Vs. The Swans

Feud revels in its drama, fueled by an ensemble cast of formidable divas who captivate viewers with their mesmerizing performances. Adorned in exquisite late-20th-century fashion and elaborate wigs, the Swans exude a magnetic allure that transcends the narrative’s occasional lulls. Moore delivers a haunting portrayal of Ann Woodward, while Lane embodies the chilling demeanor of Slim, the orchestrator of Capote’s social downfall.

At the heart of Feud is Watts, whose portrayal of Babe Paley epitomizes grace under pressure. Beneath her character’s facade of perfection lies a poignant vulnerability, particularly in the aftermath of Capote’s betrayal. Watts skillfully conveys the weight of Babe’s loneliness amidst her glamorous facade, making her betrayal by Truman all the more devastating.

Hollander’s portrayal of Capote is equally masterful, capturing the author’s distinct mannerisms and charisma without veering into caricature. Through nuanced performances, Hollander portrays Capote’s charm and vulnerability, particularly during his moments of self-reflection and despair. As Capote grapples with his inner demons and missed opportunities, Feud serves as a poignant reminder of the complexities that defined the enigmatic author.

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