Billy Liar (1963)
Liar Liar Tom Courtenay's on Fire
I won't threaten yer, I'll flatten yer - Rita
"Billy Liar" maybe a black and white movie made in the sixties but the remarkable thing about it is that it has a storyline which is as current now as it was back when it was released. In being such it makes "Billy Liar" a fascinating movie to watch on several levels as we watch how spiralling lies can lead to issues through to someone stuck in a rut without the courage to get out it. And that is why "Billy Liar" an amusing movie, is as interesting to watch now as I am sure it was when it was released back in the 60s. And whilst the grim look of the anonymous north may have changed it has dated remarkably well.
Billy Fisher (Tom Courtenay - Doctor Zhivago) finds his life boring, living at home with his unsympathetic parents whilst working as a clerk in a funeral parlour. So dull is Billy's life that he spends much of his time day dreaming of an imaginary land called Ambrosia which he is the ruler of. And when he isn't day dreaming he is telling a spiralling web of lies which finds himself in the dodgy situation of having two fiancées and one engagement ring. The only person who really understands him is Liz (Julie Christie - The Fast Lady), an easy going free willed young woman who encourages Billy to follow his dreams, but will Billy have the courage to do so or will he stay in the rut of his dull life?
Watched purely as entertainment "Billy Liar" works surprisingly well as we watch the amusing Billy Fisher get deeper and deeper into bother thanks to his string of elaborate lies which not only sees him with a wardrobe full of calendars he was suppose to post but also 2 fiancées and another woman on the go. At the same time we laugh at his constant day dreaming and fantasising as he venture into an imaginary world called Ambrosia which he presides over. As such "Billy Liar" has scene after scene of gentle comedy such as his attempts to get rid of the calendars by flushing them down the toilet or his sudden visualisation of gunning down his parents when they do his head with their nagging, it is much funnier than it sounds.
But then "Billy Liar" is a movie of depth which in many ways speaks to those who are stuck in a rut. What I mean is we watch Billy living his humdrum life, hating every moment and day dreaming to make it interesting as well as telling lie after lie. But Billy has an opportunity to get out of this life, to make a fresh start with Liz in London and become the script writer that he dreams off but it boils down to whether he has the courage to break free. In delivering this aspect "Billy Liar" is a movie which really speaks to those who find themselves hating the life they lead but never having the courage to do something about it, to make that change and take a risk.
And on top of this there is also the aspect of Billy's almost double life as he tells one lie after another such as flitting between two girls who believe they are engaged to him. It's all very amusing especially as you find laughing at the way Billy can pluck another lie out of the air with ease. But then it also shows that a life of lying will catch up with you and the awkwardness of it all when the truth does surface.
Whilst "Billy Liar" features many solid performances from Wilfred Pickles as Billy's father through to Julie Christie as Liz one of the three women in Billy's life and the one who really understands him it is Tom Courtenay as Billy who makes the movie work. Almost every single scene features Courtenay be it a humorous scene shared with the likes of Leonard Rossiter and Rodney Bewes or a more dramatic scene such as when Billy's lies finally catch up with him and every single scene works. And that is because Courtenay makes Billy real, yes his day dreaming may be exaggerated and the extent of his lies may border on being over the top but Billy clearly represents the young man on the street who is fed up of their dull lives. And as such you can associate yourself with Billy and the issues he faces as he struggles to get himself out of a rut which is getting deeper and deeper. It's a great performance from Courtenay one which is timeless because even now his Billy still represents those young people who are struggling to break free.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "Billy Liar" maybe a movie from the 60s, the themes it covers are still current and as such makes it almost a timeless movie. You can easily associate yourself with Billy and his feelings thanks to the great performance from Tom Courtenay. But even if you struggle to empathise with Billy the whole amusement of his life, his day dreaming of Ambrosia and his spiralling web of lies will make you smile anyway.
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