Feud: Capote vs. The Swans - Photo FX
Feud: Capote vs. The Swans – Photo FX

Confession: I’m hooked on “Feud: Capote vs. the Swans.” I remember when Truman Capote published his lightly fictionalized “La Cote Basque 1965,” an incendiary chapter of “Answered Prayers,” in which he committed ‘publish and perish’ social suicide. 

Unlike Season One of Ryan Murphy’s FX anthology series “Feud,” which recounted Bette Davis & Joan Crawford’s animosity, “Capote vs. the Swans” chronicles the rise and fall of author Truman Capote as he viciously eviscerates his prominent socialite friends whose scandalous peccadillos generated gallons of gossip.

Revealed in overlapping flashbacks, the ‘Swans’ are wealthy, self-indulgent trophy wives of powerful men; they befriend witty, openly gay Truman (Tom Hollander), making him their constant companion / confidant / confessor at their wine-soaked lunches at Henri Soule’s chic La Cote Basque restaurant on East 55th Street. 

There’s porcelain perfect Babe Paley (Naomi Watts), married to CBS chief Bill Paley (Treat Williams); Jacqueline Kennedy’s jealous sister Lee Radziwill (Calista Flockhart); blue-blooded gardening expert C.Z. Guest (Chloe Sevigny), married to British / American polo champion Winston Frederick Churchill Guest; and caustic model Slim Keith (Diane Lane), ex-wife of director Howard Hawks, producer Leland Hayward and British banker Kenneth Keith – a.k.a. Baron Keith of Castleacre.

Haunted by the spiteful ghost of his mother (Jessica Lange) and chided by his long-suffering ex-boyfriend Jack Dunphy (Joe Mantello), Truman’s first ‘target’ is Ann Woodward (Demi Moore), dubbed “Bang-Bang,” who ‘accidentally’ shot her banker husband and, literally, got away with murder.

But Tru’s most bitter confrontation was with his beloved Babe Paley. One of three daughters of Boston’s pioneering neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing, Babe was horrified and humiliated when Tru vividly detailed her philandering husband’s dalliance with Happy Rockefeller, wife of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. 

Adapted by Jon Robin Baitz from Laurence Leamer’s 2021 book “Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal and a Swan Song for an Era” and directed by Gus Van Zant, it’s is a compelling tale of seduction, deception and self-destruction – since Truman lived by Mark Twain’s maxim: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” 

Eventually sinking into alcoholism and despair, banished from New York social circles, Truman sought refuge in Hollywood with Johnny Carson’s protective ex-wife Joanne (Molly Ringwald).

FX ads pitch the rarefied series as “The Original Housewives,” but it’s far more than that. Obsessed with superficial appearance, these shallow, unhappy WASP trendsetters flaunt conspicuous consumption while zealously guarding their private lives in an era before People magazine delved behind closed doors. 

As Truman notes: “A swan can never rest. Underneath the crisp surface of the water, they have to paddle twice as fast and vigorously as an ordinary duck just to stay afloat.”

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Feud: Capote vs. the Swans” is an aristocratic 8 – with eight episodes running on FX on Wednesday and/or Hulu on Thursday. 

Saltburn - Photo MGM
Saltburn – Photo MGM

After “Promising Young Woman” (2022), Emerald Fennell’s auspicious writing/directing debut, her audacious second feature “Saltburn” is a disappointment.

Set in 2006, it’s a twisted, kinky, social-climbing satire revolving around Oliver Quick (Irish actor Barry Keoghan), a guileless ‘scholarship’ Oxford undergrad who cleverly befriends handsome Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), an aristocratic yet surprisingly compassionate classmate.

According to Oliver’s tragic backstory, his parents suffered addiction/mental health problems before his father’s recent death – which is why it’s so important to him to wangle an invitation to spend the summer at Catton’s family’s Baroque country estate called Saltburn.

From the moment this scheming interloper enters the eccentric family’s fabulously elite realm, his devious emotional attachment ignites. That’s the provocative premise.

As Oliver passes through the wrought-iron gates and becomes acquainted with various Catton relatives, he conspires and betrays each of them with ruthless precision. 

His victims include Felix’s self-consciously troubled sister, Venetia (Alison Oliver); his droll father, Sir James (Richard E. Grant); and his shallow, glamorous, scene-stealing mother, Elsbeth (Rosamond Pike). 

There’s Elsbeth’s fashionable friend, Pamela (Carey Mulligan) and, of course, the loyal, observant, meticulous butler, Duncan (Paul Rhys).

Somewhat reminiscent of “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” this psychosexual drama superficially blends class and privilege with Gothic horror – desire with restraint – and – above all – revenge.

Spoiler Alert! 

It’s particularly disgusting when libidinous Oliver is glimpsed drinking the draining bathwater into which Felix masturbated and then licking the bottom of the bathtub. 

Following that, undoubtedly the most bizarre sequence is the finale, depicting Oliver dancing triumphantly – displaying full-frontal nudity – through the palatial mansion’s halls.

On the Granger Gauge, “Saltburn” is an exasperating, toxic 3, streaming on Amazon Prime.

Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.