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Billy Liar
M O V I E   R E V I E W

    Billy Fisher (Courtenay) is at once likable and frustrating. His imagination is keen, as he is able to escape into Walter Mitty-styled fantasy worlds where he is ruler, hero, soldier, and everything else in between



TOM COURTENAY & JULIE CHRISTIE, BILLY LIAR (1963)




  • director: John Schlesinger
  • screenplay: Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall
  • based on the novel by: Waterhouse and the stageplay by Waterhouse and Hall)

  • Principal Cast:
      Tom Courtenay (Billy Fisher)
      Wilfred Pickles (Geoffrey Fisher)
      Mona Washbourne (Alice Fisher)
      Ethel Griffies (Florence)
      Finlay Currie (Duxbury)
      Gwendolyn Watts (Rita)
      Helen Fraser (Barbara)
      Julie Christie (Liz )
      Leonard Rossiter (Shadrack)
      Rodney Bewes (Arthur Crabtree)
      George Innes (Stamp)
      Leslie Randall (Danny Boon)
      Patrick Barr (Inspector MacDonald)
      Ernest Clark (Prison Governor)
      Godfrey Winn (Disk Jockey)
      Jack Cunningham
      Elaine Stevens (Danny's Secretary)
      Anna Wing (Mrs. Crabtree)

  • format: Black & white
  • released: 1963

    Billy Fisher (Courtenay) is at once likable and frustrating. His imagination is keen, as he is able to escape into Walter Mitty-styled fantasy worlds where he is ruler, hero, soldier, and everything else in between. He has talent, as evidenced by the surprise performance of a song he wrote by a band at a night club. He has ambitions of writing scripts for a famed comedian, and we think, well, why not? But all the while, our worst fears are being confirmed…he has the imagination to dream, but not the fortitude to chase them.

    Such is the underlying paradox of Billy Liar, a smart British comedy made by John Schlesinger in 1963, a few years before his Midnight Cowboy and Marathon Man heyday. This charming picture depicts in great detail the uneventful and sometimes smothering life of the English working class. Billy’s real world involve unsympathetic and unsupportive parents (Pickles and Washbourne), a dull job at a funeral home where the boss muses plastic coffins as the future, and a love life entirely overcomplicated by his own doing.

    His imagination sometimes equates to irresponsibility. He daydreams instead of making it to work on time. He stashes away a cache of calendars that his bosses entrusted him to mail out (it’s never made clear what he did with the postage money, other than he didn’t spend it on postage). Instead of making the most of his job, he plans to quit in order to accept an imaginary offer from a popular comic to write scripts. And, with his penchant for fantasy (read: lying), he’s managed to get himself engaged to not one, but two women (Watts and Fraser) with a single ring. Complications ensue.

    But we watch Billy with a sense that he’s capable of great things, if only he could harness his great imagination instead of letting it run wild with him. We also sense that because he prefers his fantasies to reality, that he sadly won’t amount to what he could be. Our first real clue is when he sits alone in the office and begins pounding out his first novel on an old typewriter. It starts out promising enough, but soon, Billy gets hung up over a simple thing like the by-line. He keeps making his own name sound grander and more prolific, until soon, there is no more novel.

    A new door opens for Billy when he meets up with Liz (Christie), who seems to be the perfect girl for him, despite his engagements. She’s a pretty, liberated spirit who chases her dreams with abandon. She also believes in Billy’s talents. Her idea? If he wants to write scripts, they should throw caution to the wind and head out for London to make his dream come true. He is left, after all, with no real commitments to his working class life, after losing his job and facing probable legal action over the postage money, his parents’ thorough disgust with him, and his two fiancées finally catching wind of his deceitful balancing act.

    “Go on, Billy,” we think to ourselves, if not shouting at the screen, “go with her! Do it! Live the adventurous life you’ve always imagined for yourself!” Does he? Sorry, can’t tell. That would be cheating. Just know that you’ll be entirely wrapped up in Billy’s moment of critical decision, cheering him on, and keeping your fingers crossed for him.




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