2017-2024 - United States

Capote vs The Swans

Review by AJ

Back in 2017, TV super producer Ryan Murphy premiered Feud on FX, a high-profile anthology project to follow up his massively successful American Horror Story. Every season of Feud was going to dramatize legendary real-life feuds of the rich and famous, with the first season centred around Hollywood Golden Age superstars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s beef during the making of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane

Feud 2017 series
Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange from the 2017 series

However, the reception to Feud was lukewarm at best. Since then, there was rumour of a season 2 covering Prince Charles vs Princess Diana’s bitter divorce, but that plan quickly got scrapped and Feud seemingly disappeared into the ether of gone-too-soon TV series. Until 2024. 

Suddenly, the long-buried anthology came back from the dead, this time spotlighting the psych war happening in 1960’s New York high society scene between novelist Truman Capote (Tom Hollander) and The Swans, the elite circle ruling the society. 

For those not deep in the literary trench, Truman Capote might not ring a bell. But most pop culture aficionados would be familiar with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, that of the Audrey Hepburn in little black dress fame. Capote wrote the seminal novel that the 1961 movie was based on. In his heyday, he was a famed cultural icon, a socialite who ran with the most privileged New York City crowd, The Swans, led by renowned socialite Babe Paley (Naomi Watts). But when Capote used The Swans’ scandalous private lives as fodder for his story, the ladies vowed to ruin his life in retaliation. 

Feud 2024 series
Chloë Sevigny and Tom Hollander in the 2017 series

When it comes to depicting the old money world, the show got it down pat. Sumptuously filmed, it revels in capturing a decadent parade of glamour in New York’s society scene of the 60’s. Luncheon at fancy establishments, elaborate dinner parties, opulent apartments, majestic vacation houses - the show spares no expense in luxuriating details. The fashion, too, is impressive: mink coats, fancy millineries, archives from Givenchy, Hermes, Celine, Lanvin, etc. it’s just a burst of visual splendour, lensed in a nostalgic golden hue. It feels like an ode to a grand world from another time.

On the other hand, the show also gamely eviscerates the not-so-glamorous side of this gilded society: infidelities, betrayals, battle with chronic illness, addiction, homophobia. At the centre of it all is Capote, a master and monster in equal parts, someone so destructive despite his sociable facade. The queer author is a product of a contradictory time: people loved his works but rejected his homosexuality. The love-hate relationships he has with his partners, socialite friends, and with himself reflect the hidden pain underneath. There is a short but memorable encounter with a guest character played by Jessica Lange that takes the show right inside Capote’s twisted, liquor-addled mind. The brief scene underscores Capote’s inner turmoil, always swimming so subtly to the surface amidst all the flamboyance. It all adds up into a fascinatingly layered personality, captured to perfection by Hollander. 

Feud 2024 series
Diane Lane and Tom Hollander

From time to time though, the focus on character study does get a bit heavy handed. The show’s foundation is tied to Capote and Paley’s tumultuous friendship, but their supposed close bond wasn’t immediately palpable on screen. Rather unsure if it’s actors’ chemistry or a question of writing, but the show doesn’t devote enough effort to highlight the importance of this bond to make the later betrayal felt powerful. Thankfully, the acting performances across the board keep it afloat. 

Scandalous yet eye-pleasing, Feud: Capote vs The Swans is a gorgeous period piece about one man’s pain manifesting in addiction to beauty, splendour and drama. 

Published on May 2nd, 2024. Written by Jennifer Ariesta for Television Heaven.

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