1983, Elizabeth Taylor(Helena Bonham Carter) invites her twice ex-husband Richard Burton(Dominic West) to her fiftieth birthday party where he considers her proposal that they star in a new stage adaptation of Noel Coward's play "Private Lives".
When the news is announced to the press, there's speculation that the couple may get back together again. Elizabeth hopes for this but Burton(although he still loves her)has moved on from their life together and has a new girlfriend(later his last wife)Sally. Burton's also frail physically as a lifetime of hard drinking takes it toll on him. He's worried that he won't be able to play the role of King Lear after this play because it will too demanding for him, Elizabeth assures him he's just being silly.
When the play opens it becomes clear to both of them that the audience are just there to see Burton/Taylor and it's almost as if the play becomes about their life together. As the couple argue off stage Elizabeth takes it out on Burton on stage, physically hitting him(in real life he was very, very frail during the run and she did hurt him when she did that)and playing up to audience, talking directly to them on several occasions and acknowledging their cheers mid performance!
This is very poignant film looking at the last act in the Taylor/Burton love story. The two loved each other very much and after their divorces Burton still wrote to Taylor and they phoned each other a lot. He couldn't take Taylor's drinking and pill popping though nor her entourage who seemed to be around all the time. They couldn't be together but they couldn't be apart either. Dominic does an excellent job as the weary Burton however he doesn't look nearly as old or frail as Burton was during the plays run. Burton was only in his early fifties but looked seventy and although they mention his nerve pain and frailness it doesn't register just how ill he actually was.
Onto Burton's voice and the performances, Dominic gives it a good go but never captures Burton's iconic voice perfectly(the only person I've ever heard do an accurate impression is Frank Gorshin during a comedy roast)but you believe he is Richard so it doesn't really matter. He captures the emotional torment of the man perfectly. Likewise with Helena she portrays the boozy, depressed Elizabeth very well and you believe it's Taylor you're watching.
Those little complaints about the portrayal of Burton's health aside this is a very well made BBC4 film about the couple and is moving, funny and brilliantly acted. Well worth a watch especially for fans of the couple.
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