Billy Liar (1963)

Billy Liar (1963)

“He can’t say two words to anybody without telling a lie.”

A young man (Tom Courtenay) with a verbally abusive father (Wildred Pickles) and a worn-out mother (Mona Washbourne) lives a rich fantasy life, nurturing grandiose dreams of being a famous writer while romancing two young fiancees — Barbara (Helen Fraser) and Rita (Gwendolyn Watts) — at the same time. When his old flame (Julie Christie) suddenly arrives in town, will Billy (Courtenay) find the courage to leave for London?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Character Studies
  • John Schlesinger Films
  • Julie Christie Films
  • Play Adaptations
  • Tom Courtenay Films
  • Womanizers

John Schlesinger directed this adaptation of a novel-turned-play by Keith Waterhouse, about an undertaker’s assistant in Yorkshire who dreams of a much more glamorous life, and routinely retreats into fantasies, both grandiose and gruesome.

From its opening scenes in Billy’s oppressive household (he still lives with his parents and grandmother), we can see how and why Billy might want to find an escape route — and also why his parents are fed up with him.

His delusions are a way to cope — but the mess he makes of his job and love life show how wide an impact his dysfunction is having. The fact that his tale is told with an overall air of insouciance — and that his girlfriends are either shrewish (Watts) or dim-witted (Fraser) — makes it a bit easier to feel some sympathy for him:

… though he’s still undeniably an immature cad who has a lot of growing up left to do. Fans of British New Wave cinema will want to be sure to check this one out, but it’s not must-see viewing for all film fanatics.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Tom Courtenay as Billy
  • Helen Fraser as Barbara
  • Julie Christie in her brief screen debut as Liz
  • Denys Coop’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look.


One thought on “Billy Liar (1963)

  1. First viewing (5/16/21). Not must-see.

    A ‘one-joke’ plot that shows some inventiveness early on but nevertheless soon grows tiresome and is ultimately – even with its details – unsatisfying.

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