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14 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Keeping up appearances

8/10
Author: Shannon Reardon from St. John's, NL, Canada
8 January 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Well, Remick certainly deserved her Emmy nod for her turn in Haywire (based on the book of the same name penned by Brooke Hayward) as ill-fated actress, Margaret Sullavan. If Remick's portrayal was any indication, Margaret Sullavan, though a troubled woman, was quite a sophisticated, accomplished, and successful actress. We do see, however, that the appearance she aims to keep up (strong marriage, happy family, thriving actress) is a struggle for her. She experiences trouble in her marriage to famed producer and agent Leland Hayward (Jason Robards) and trouble with her children, in particular daughter Bridget, and arguably to a lesser extent with son Bill. Brooke Hayward, who wrote the book Haywire, seemed to have the best relationship with her sometimes difficult mother and seemed most affected by her suicide in 1960-- which is where the movie begins.

Margaret, despite all of her success on the stage and screen, seemingly wanted a typical family life for her husband and three children by him. That is perhaps why she moved the family to New England from California, despite her husband's difficulty with this move in terms of his career. She did not want to be seen as a star really, and this was certainly apparent when she was approached by a young woman looking for an autograph in a park someplace and basically dressed down this poor young fan for seeking such a thing. I felt bad for this young girl, who no doubt had a different impression of Ms. Sullavan when she walked away. She might have come away with a sympathetic view of Sullavan, as Margaret was perhaps hoping she would, though I doubt it after the harsh way Margaret treated her. Margaret clearly had self-awareness because after she lectured this poor young fan, she told her young children that how she behaved was poor. So Margaret wasn't totally cold or lacking a conscience. It seemed she wanted to do right by her kids and teach them class (if such a thing can be taught-- it at least can be shown) and if anything, she wanted to teach them the importance of family. She made it a point to do things with her kids and to include her busy husband in these family activities as much as possible. I think this was a very honorable trait of Sullavan's and Remick conveyed it particularly well.

But beyond the image (facade?) of a happy family lay discord. Margaret left her children for 6 months one year to star in a play in London. This was detrimental to the children, unquestionably, and Leland did his best to care for the children, all the while juggling his hectic career. Leland and Margaret were having marital problems and even though Leland promised Brooke that he and her mother would stay married, it turned out to be a promise he couldn't keep. Leland and Margaret sat the children down one day and told them that they were separating (which eventually led to a divorce). Margaret married again, this time to an Englishman, and her children did their best to adjust to their new family life. When they visited their father, especially Brooke, he would lavish them with expensive gifts and for whatever reason, Margaret frowned upon this. Bridget, the younger daughter who was quite timid, found herself when she went away to Switzerland. And when she returned, she had greater self-confidence and enough to pen a letter about how much she "hated" her mother. Well, Margaret was in Bridget's room one day and found this letter on her dresser. Needless to say, the contents of this letter crushed Margaret and perhaps sparked the hurt and anger Margaret exhibited at the end of the movie, when Bridget along with Bill announced that they were leaving Margaret's "provincial" Connecticut home and moving in with their father in glamorous California. At the end Margaret flips out at Bill (Hart Bochner) and tries to make him stay with her, but he won't. Soon thereafter, presumably, she offs herself.

Margaret Sullavan tried to have it all: The perfect career (fame, but free of the hassles of stardom), the perfect marriage, and the perfect family. Perhaps this drive for perfection, and the inability to attain it, is what drove her to suicide in 1960. Remick's portrayal of Sullavan captured this torture and showed that beyond the glamour, sophistication, and seeming confidence was a woman who was emotionally distressed and perhaps even deeply insecure. The effort to keep up appearances can be taxing for anybody, especially if one is a public person (and married to another public person). Margaret couldn't handle it in the end and sadly killed herself.

And as an epilogue, Bridget Hayward apparently killed herself and Bill Hayward suffered a mental breakdown himself, though thankfully not fatal. (This telefilm was produced by him.)

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