Feud: Capote vs The Swans review – Crass, confused and deadly dull, it’s this drama that’s the scandal, writes CHRISTOPHER STEVENS

Feud: Capote vs The Swans (Disney+)


Truman Capote was the ultimate Gay Best Friend. A delicious gossip when he was sober, a venomous tattler when he was drunk, he clung to New York’s society ladies, stroking their egos like lapdogs.

They demanded loyalty, flattery and entertainment — he was, said one, a ‘homosexual court jester singing for his supper’. He called them his ‘swans’ because, ‘they have to paddle twice as fast and vigorously as an ordinary duck, just to stay afloat’.

Capote was celebrated for his books, including his novella Breakfast At Tiffany’s and true-crime tale In Cold Blood. But after his talent was washed away by a tidal wave of gin and vodka, he tried to earn one last publishing payday by writing about his ladies and laying bare their secrets — their drug habits, their sex lives, even their crimes and cover-ups.

British actor Tom Hollander, 56, playing American novelist and screenwriter Truman Capote

British-Australian actress Naomi Watts, 55, playing American magazine editor and socialite Babe Paley

British-Australian actress Naomi Watts, 55, playing American magazine editor and socialite Babe Paley

The fallout from the exposé is the focus of Feud: Capote vs The Swans. Tom Hollander plays the writer, imitating his arch mannerisms, mimicking his high, sibilant voice, and generally acting his little pink socks off.

Facing him across the tables of Manhattan’s most chic 1970s restaurants are an array of grandes dames: Chloe Sevigny, Calista Flockhart, Diane Lane and at their head, Naomi Watts, as queen of the socialites Babe Paley.

Glowering across the room is Demi Moore, playing Ann Woodward, who shot her husband dead after supposedly mistaking him for a burglar. Naughty Truman loves to regale his friends with the ‘true’ story, that she killed him in the shower after he had an affair.

If every unfaithful husband were shot, there’d be no men left in New York. Capote’s violent boyfriend John is a married man, played by Russell Tovey — in heavy-rimmed spectacles and sideburns that make him look disconcertingly like Richard Osman.

All this should be electrifying. Instead, it’s soulless, frequently crass, repetitive, confused and (by far the worst sin for a drama about gossip) downright dull.

The narrative staggers between decades like a drunk weaving through a party. It’s 1984, it’s 1965, it’s the mid-70s, and we have to guess what’s happening when by watching for clues in the hairstyles and the clothes.

Occasionally, the gossip comes alive. One lady-at-lunch brags that she has met Prince Charles: ‘He likes growing stuff. He gave me a gorgeous courgette once.’ The double entendre is certainly intentional.

American actress Molly Ringwald, 56, playing one of Capote's 'swans' Joanne Carson

American actress Molly Ringwald, 56, playing one of Capote’s ‘swans’ Joanne Carson

When the storyline gets too tangled, explanations have to be deployed like crib sheets. Capote’s mother, Lillie Mae (Jessica Lange), appears in one of his alcoholic dazes, to inform him that he both adores and loathes the ultra-snobs because she herself could never be one of them.

Such off-the-peg psychology looks especially fake among all the designer couture. The women, too, look unreal — they’re meant to be shallow, but this eight-part series (written and directed by men) fails to convince us that they’re more than imitation human beings.

Capote controls them with his little pill box of Valium and barbiturates. Why bother? This faux Feud could put anyone to sleep.

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