The basic set-up owes a lot to James Thurber's classic short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Our hero, Billy Fisher, lives at home in a Bradford semi with his nagging parents and works as a lowly clerk in an undertaker's parlour. But, in his imagination he lives a rich and varied fantasy life as gallant military leader, suave socialite, best-selling novelist and so forth. Trouble is, he can't always keep fantasy and reality apart, any more than he can the keep two girls he's engaged to separate. Not to mention his other problems .
Schlesinger's direction brings out the desperation behind the comedy, and Tom Courtenay, at once defiant and hangdog, slips perfectly into the role created on stage by Albert Finney. But the whole cast's a joy, not least the great Leonard Rossiter as undertaker Mr Shadrach, Billy's saturnine boss. And then there's Julie Christie--the luminous spirit of the Swinging 60s--in her first starring role as the girl who offers Billy a chance of real escape. At the end, when she takes the train to London, away from the smoke and the grimness "oop" north, the whole British New Wave went with her.
On the DVD: just the theatrical trailer which is a fairly crass affair. There's been no remastering, it seems, but both sound and vision are clean enough and the print preserves the original's full 2.35:1 widescreen ratio. --Philip Kemp
Tom Courtenay is William Fisher, a young man with problems. He doesn't like his job as a funeral furnishings employee, he still lives at his parents's home and spends a lot of time lying to his two girlfriends. In order to quit for a while his everyday life, he has created an imaginary world - Ambrosia - that has got some resemblance with the South or Central America bananas republics of the sixties. He is the leader of this country and people adore him. In short, he is an escapist.
BILLY LIAR has been shot partly on location, partly in studio and I often had the feeling to watch two different movies on the screen. Like Billy. The destructions of buildings shown throughout the movie add to the strange impression that a world is collapsing. When Billy meets Liz, played by a terrific Julie Christie, he has the opportunity of his life to give some reality to his dreams because Liz is so real. Let's admire how John Schlesinger, in a french New Wave style, films her strolling in the streets. A great moment of cinema.
Comedy, social study or metaphor on the Cinema, BILLY LIAR can easily be seen at different levels and is, in my opinion, a valuable addition to your library....
Once again, the British lose out to the 'that'll do' mentality and get a very shoddy product. Billy Liar is the best film ever made, and deserves better.
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