Blu-ray Review: Billy Liar

The British New Wave (or “kitchen sink drama movement”) was an innovative, but brief cinematic movement during the late fifties and early sixties. These films, usually in black and white, focused on class and social issues. Billy Liar directed by John Schlesinger, is cited on many best British Films of All Time lists.

Billy Fisher (Tom Courtenay) dreams of writing a novel and earning his living as a comedy scriptwriter in London. However, his reality is living in Yorkshire with skeptical, working-class parents (Wilfred Pickles and Mona Washburn) and a senile grandmother and working an unfulfilling job as an undertaker’s clerk.  His two teasing workplace mates, Arthur Crabtree (Rodney Bewes) and Stamp (George Innes), dub him Billy Liar because of all the tall tales he tells. Billy’s lies get him in trouble repeatedly.

When the film opens, he’s engaged to two different girls, neither of whom he particularly seems to care for. As he juggles the two young women who unknowingly share the same engagement ring. Believing a polite form letter means he’s been hired by a famed comedian as a script writer, Billy prepares to leave for London. First, he must break up with both of his fiancées–The no nonsense blonde Rita (Gwendolyn Watts) and the sweet and trusting brunette, Barbara (Helen Fraser). During all of this, yet another one of his lies comes to light when his employer discovers he’s embezzled the petty cash earmarked for postage on the annual calendar.

Courtenay’s performance is realistic. He dreams of a better life than the one he has in front of him. At the end of the day, he realizes he will probably  never rise above his ordinary existence. Alongside Tom Courtenay, Billy Liar is renowned for putting Julie Christie firmly on the Cinematic map. Despite a meager twelve minutes screen time, she shines as the free-spirited Liz, an object of Billy’s affection. She brings a warmth an affection to the proceedings whenever she is on screen.

Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Kino Lorber’s 1080p transfer looks excellent, with sharp edges and notable contrast in the black and white photography that gives the proceedings a filmic appearance. There are no noticeable artifacts.

The DTS-HD Master 2.0 track sounds rich, allowing the score by Richard Rodney Bennett to shine. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout.

English SDH subtitles are included.

The following extras are available:

  • Audio Commentary with Film Historian Kat Ellinger: A worthwhile listen, this is an extremely detailed dive into the history of Billy Liar.

Billy Liar (1963)
Billy Liar

Movie title: Billy Liar

Country: UK

Duration: 98 min

Director(s): John Schlesinger

Actor(s): Tom Courtenay, Julie Christie, Wilfred Pickles , Ethel Griffies , Finlay Currie , Gwendolyn Watts

Genre: Drama, Romance, Comedy

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