Friday, August 5, 2011

"Billy Liar" with Tom Courtenay and Julie Christie (1963)

Tom Courtenay gives one of his best performances in this off beat comedy set in 1963 England. Billy is the complete antithesis of Michael Caine's "Alfie." Rather than a predatory womanizer, Billy is a victim of his own overly imaginative mind. He cannot do anything without turning it into fantasy and self glorification. As a result he has a low level job at a mortuary, 2 fiancees, for whom he has only one ring, and who each believe that he is on the verge of a big breakthrough in show business as a writer in London. These exaggerations have earned him the nickname Billy "Liar" among his friends.

Living at home with his "mum" and dad complicates things even more for Billy, as he struggles to find a place for himself in the adult world. There is however, one friend who really believes in him. Julie Harris plays the carefree, purse swinging young woman who travels to London, has lovers and pursues whatever she desires. She is the penultimate "free spirit." She continually encourages Billy in his quest to embrace himself. Can she do it? More importantly, can he allow it?

As the noose tightens around Billy's neck, life, and his own fantasies are slowly strangling him. He has told so many lies, and stretched so many truths, that living is becoming somewhat of a mine field for him to navigate on a daily basis. When a family tragedy intervenes Billy finds his hand forced. He must choose between what is expected of him, or take a chance on finding the real Billy. With the help of Julie Christie he comes to a point where a decision must be made.

This is a delightful, and off beat film along the lines of "Morgan" and "Alfie", which all reflect the cultural changes taking place in Britain at the time. These changes grew largely out of the devastation of World War Two and the feeling of isolation many of the younger generation were feeling.

With the glory of the war behind them, and the pressure of their parents for them to "make something of themselves", this generation would embrace the arts and entertainment to effect a change from what they felt had become a staid society. This is the environment in which all of the major British artists of the 1960's were raised. The devastation of World War Two is clearly evident in many of the background shots in the film. This was a country that had been bombed, but never bowed, in the midst of rebuilding. That same spirit would lead to a renaissance in music, art and film. This film is one of those efforts.

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