This bittersweet backstage drama, set in 1938, skillfully combines a love of the theater with the certain knowledge that actors are delusional creatures who can scarcely tell where their characters end and their true selves begin. Adapted from a forgotten W. Somerset Maugham novella called "Theatre," it stars a ravishing, period-perfect Annette Bening as Julia Lambert, a renowned English stage diva on the far side of 40 and worried about it. Maugham's signature wit and tragic colorations are well served by director Istvan Szabo (Mephisto) and screenwriter Ronald Harwood (The Dresser): Julia has a revivifying affair with a young American (Shaun Evans) who turns out to be a cad, is betrayed by her husband (suave Jeremy Irons), and takes revenge the only way she knows how -- through her acting. For Bening, here's another chance to shine, and she makes the most of it. Slowly but surely, the California girl within comes to convince us, by word and deed, she's an authentic English icon beset by English whims and English fears.