Hedda Gabler is set in Oslo, Norway in the 1890’s. The titular character Hedda is an aristocratic woman who has recently married a man named George out of convenience. Finding their life together disappointing and unfulfilling, she sets out to toy with her neighbors and “friends”. Hedda’s manipulative actions ultimately end in tragedy for herself and others.
The 1962 film adaptation is based on the play of the same name by famed playwright Henrik Ibsen. It is an entertaining piece and one that has withstood the test of time- mostly because of its scathing examination of modern society.
Much like Shakespeare’s Iago, Hedda is held in high esteem by those in the community because she is the daughter of a highly respected general. Characters describe her as beautiful and kind, yet she is anything but. Unlike Iago, Hedda has no clear goal in sight. She says that she is bored- so she fills the time by exploiting others. She desires control above all else.
Hedda is cold and calculating, downright predatory when she feels up to it, and worst of all she is completely aware of the feelings of others- she simply doesn’t care.
Early in the film, George’s old aunt Julie stops by their home to check in on the newlyweds. She places her brand new hat on the couch and when Hedda glides into the room she accuses the maid of leaving her things about. She actually goes out of her way to tease this elderly woman just for sport. When George gently tells her who the hat actually belongs to, she changes her tune, telling Aunt Julie how fine it really is. Later, Hedda admits to family friend Judge Brack that she knew all along who the hat belonged to.
Perhaps Hedda’s most villainous moment comes when she urges her ex-lover Eilert to take his own life. She even goes as far as to give him the pistol to carry the job out. Hedda does this for two reasons I believe: 1) her own sport and 2) because she sees honor in taking control of life in such a way. Hedda encourages Eilert to make the moment “beautiful” and later calls him “courageous” for his tragic and misguided choice.
Throughout the movie it is heavily insinuated that Hedda is pregnant and when she finally tells George she practically snarls the news; he is overjoyed and oblivious to the fact that his new wife is annoyed and sickened by him. Motherhood is a responsibility that doesn’t interest her in the slightest. Unable to reconcile with the idea of being a mother and losing control of her life, Hedda opts to kill herself in the final moments of the movie.
As far as adaptations go, Hedda Gabler is very well done. As the titular character, Academy Award-winner Ingrid Bergman is mesmerizing. I always marvel at how well she portrays such an unlikable woman. She plays Hedda’s charming moments with ease and slips into villainy with little effort. The way that she interacts with each character is also impressive because Hedda is someone different every time. To Taya, a gullible neighbor and former classmate, she acts as a confidant and plans Taya’s downfall simultaneously.
To her silly husband George, Bergman rides a fine line. At certain moments she doesn’t hide her true feelings for him. Other times, primarily when it suits her selfish ambition, she turns on the charm and it is apparent that she has him wound around her little finger.
While there are TONS of villains more noteworthy than Hedda Gabler, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to write about such a polarizing character. She may be despicable and rotten, but she’s a villain I just love to hate 🙂
Hedda Gabler is directed by Alex Segal and stars: Ingrid Bergman, Michael Redgrave, Ralph Richardson, Trevor Howard, Dilys Hamlett and Ursula Jeans.
So glad I got to participate in all the villainous fun! Shout out to Ruth, Karen and Kristina. Thanks for letting me play! 🙂