Alternately duplicitous, egotistical, insecure, nasty, weepy, headstrong, selfish and needy, the titular stage star of István Szabó’s Being Julia is portrayed with such stunning versatility and flair by Annette Benning that the actress’ excellence almost outweighs this slapdash period piece’s myriad shortcomings. Julia Lambert – an acclaimed actress in 1939 London who’s married to a theater owner (Jeremy Irons) but embroiled in an affair with a young American (Shaun Evans) – is a cagey, conniving chameleon whose every interaction with friends, colleagues, and loved ones is nothing more than an exquisitely calibrated performance. Benning, her exquisitely enchanting smile masking a deceptive ruthlessness, brings this constantly disguised vixen to ferocious, flamboyant life. Alas, her stunning portrait of the middle-aged Julia’s resentment over her evaporating beauty and desirability is the only bright spot in Szabó’s otherwise turgid adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel. If the director isn’t shooting his actors in blocky close-ups or awkwardly editing his contentious dialogue scenes, he’s allowing his surprisingly mediocre peripheral players – including Jeremy Irons as Julia’s hubby, Michael Gambon as the ghost of Julia’s former acting teacher, and the excruciating Shaun Evans as Julia’s twenty-something paramour – to interfere with his leading lady’s tour de force. That Benning even survives, much less triumphs over, Being Julia’s persistent incompetence only further confirms her performance’s magnificence.