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Feud: Capote vs. The Swans, biographical film, biography, review, biopic

Feud: Capote vs. The Swans (2024) 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of ‘feud’ is a mutual enmity or quarrel that is often prolonged. While the hostility depicted between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in the first season of Feud was definitely mutual, this is not the case for the second season, Feud: Capote vs. The Swans. After Esquire Magazine publishes excerpts from Truman Capote's upcoming novel about New York society, he spends the remainder of his life desperately trying to make amends with those friends who feel slighted, but his ‘Answered Prayers’ results only in unanswered phone calls. Yet Capote vs. The Swans does manage to align with another meaning of ‘feud’, in that it is long and drawn out.

Having dined out for years on the rumour that socialite Ann Woodward murdered her husband and got away with it, Capote finally put pen to paper in ‘La Cote Basque’. With names changed to protect the guilty, the story was included as one of many titbits of gossip shared amongst thinly disguised friends of the author. Yet when his ‘swans’ recognise themselves in the published work, they close ranks and turn Capote into a social pariah. Though Slim Keith leads the charge, it is Capote’s closest friend Babe Paley who is wounded most. Starved of society, Capote increasingly turns to drugs and alcohol as he struggles to complete what he will later refer to as his posthumous novel.  

This eight-episode limited series starts off magnificently, with Tom Hollander’s captivating portrayal of Capote impressing from the outset. The first two episodes are rich in detail as the camera slavishly lingers over New York society’s norms and protocols in a manner that recalls Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence. Then Episode Three’s faux documentary of the Black and White Ball causes momentum to shudder to a halt. It is a sterile exercise in filmmaking from which the series never fully recovers. By the final instalment, viewers may find themselves echoing Capote’s remaining friends when they plead with him to just finish the damn story.

Incidentally, the fallout from the publication of ‘La Cote Basque’ was depicted earlier, and more concisely, in Jay Presson Allen’s one man play Tru, starring Robert Morse.

Tom Hollander, Truman Capote, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Jennifer Jones
David Selznick, Peter Sellers, Robert Moore, Leland Hayward, Phyllis Diller

Feud: Capote vs. The Swans depicts several events for which there is no evidence, including –

  • Capote and Babe's reconciliation;

  • Slim's affair with Babe’s husband;

  • Ann Woodward receiving an advance copy of Esquire magazine’s excerpts from 'Answered Prayers'.

  • Ann Woodward attempting to gatecrash Capote’s Black & White Ball. 

The Maysles brothers were never commissioned to make a documentary about the Black and White Ball. They did however film a contemporary short documentary, A Visit with Truman Capote, which focussed on his novel ‘In Cold Blood’.

Though Feud: Capote vs. The Swans depicts ‘Happy’ Rockefeller as the governor’s wife with whom Bill Paley had an affair, the book on which the biopic is based suggests it was actually former New York First Lady, Marie Harriman. 

Jim Backus, Roddy McDowall, Andy Warhol, James Coco, Bill Blass
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