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A young British clerk in a gloomy North Country undertaker's office, Billy is bombarded daily by the propaganda of the media that all things are for the asking. This transparently false doctrine, coupled with the humdrum job and his wild imagination, leads him on frequent flights to "Ambrosia," a mythical kingdom where he is crowned king, general, lover or any idealized hero the real situation of the moment makes him desire. His vacillating commitment and post-adolescent immaturity have created situations which make Ambrosia all the more attractive. He's succeeded in becoming engaged to two different girls, simultaneously, while in love with a third, Liz. He's in hot water with his employer, having spent a rather large sum of postage money on his personal frivolities. And last, but not least, his dream of becoming a highly-paid, famous scriptwriter in London seems doomed to failure. The only person in his life capable of bringing him down to earth is Liz, and she's having a difficult ... Written by
Effective slice of life comedy/drama tells the story of scared, optimistic Billy (Tom Courtenay) who lives in a fantasy world where he's always a hero. Funny and charming, the film also packs a slight emotional punch that is somewhat similar to The Last Picture Show. Based on a stage play, the story of Billy Liar has since been revamped as a musical yet it's this 1963 version that works best.
Tom Courtenay and Julie Christie (Liz) leapfrogged to stardom with their performances but every actor is beautifully cast: Mona Washbourne, Wilfred Pickles, and Ethel Griffies are the character types who give Billy's family heartbreaking nuances while Helen Fraser and Gwendolyn Watts bring a refreshingly sympathetic humanity to his polar opposite fiancees.
Liz's entrance, Billy's fantasies, a dance hall sequence, a quiet hospital exchange between Billy and his mother, and the final choice are classic scenes that have been constructed with genius by John Schlesinger (Darling, Midnight Cowboy, Sunday Bloody Sunday). The Criterion Collection's DVD treatment of Billy Liar is a standout and shouldn't be missed. It's a great film.
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