John Schlesinger, 1963, UK, 98mins, Certificate: 12A
Based on Keith Waterhouse’s novel and play, the latter co-written by Willis Hall, and adapted for the big screen by both, this dramedy tells the story of a bored and lazy young man in the industrial British North who escapes his mundane reality by inventing in his mind his own Utopian country, called Ambrosia, where he plays all the major, powerful “characters”. He cannot truly escape real life though, and his irresponsibility and daydreaming eventually alienate him from the people around him.
Originally played by Albert Finney and directed by Lindsay Anderson on stage, the film adaptation gives the chance to fresh-faced Tom Courtenay to establish himself as one of the young leading actors of his generation, under the brilliant direction of John Schlesinger (Oscar winner for “Midnight Cowboy”), whilst Julie Christie makes her acting debut as Billy’s dream girl (literally and metaphorically!). Part of the “kitchen-sink”, “angry young man” movement of the late 50s- early 60s in British literature and film (Free Cinema), this is an absolute British classic!
“★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Beautifully performed and elegantly shot, with mock-heroic dream sequences offering a rich contrast to the story’s kitchen-sink miserabilism, Billy Liar is a blast from the past that has lost none of its mischief, poignancy and spiky wit.” Neil Smith, www.bbc.co.uk
“It’s the director’s most assured work, and it includes Courtenay’s greatest performance. The young actor balances zestiness and frustration, levity and rage, and never soft-pedals his character’s more unsympathetic tendencies.” Ryan Gilbey, www.newstatesman.com
“This is no cineaste’s formalist quibble. The film’s wide perspective and deep focus have an ethical import as well: they bestow on narrow, constricted lives the dignity and beauty of art.” A. O. Scott, www.nytimes.com