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Billy Liar (4 stars)

John Schlesinger’s classic British New Wave comedy has a warm and light touch

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Billy Liar

Not many classic films have also enjoyed success as a book, play, sitcom and musical. It’s testament to the timelessness of Keith Waterhouse’s source novel, about a 19-year-old lad who ‘can’t say two words to anybody without telling a lie’, that the story has resonated so widely since its 1959 publication.

John Schlesinger’s 1963 film is arguably the most famous incarnation, now restored to mark its 50th anniversary. Tom Courtenay is enthralling as Billy Fisher, clerk to an undertaker in a dull Yorkshire town and engaged to two girls while pining after another, taking refuge from daily drudgery in Walter Mitty-like fantasies.

While filmed in the cinema verité style typical of the 60s British New Wave, Schlesinger’s film has a warm and light touch that’s refreshingly out of step with the period’s humourless focus on misery. Courtenay and Julie Christie (as kooky, free-spirited Liz) embody the new style of swinging 60s anti-hero/heroine and there are also eye-catching supporting turns from British character actors Mona Washbourne, Leonard Rossiter and Finlay Currie.

Billy Liar - UK Trailer

Billy Liar

  • 4 stars
  • 1963
  • UK
  • 98 min
  • 12
  • Directed by: John Schlesinger
  • Written by: Keith Waterhouse (novel and play), Willis Hall (play)
  • Cast: Tom Courtenay, Julie Christie, Wilfred Pickles, Mona Washbourne

Vintage northern kitchen sink drama based on Keith Waterhouse's popular book. An undertaker's clerk slips in and out of a Walter Mitty-style fantasy world to escape the drudgery of life in a northern town. The spirit of the swinging 60s is captured in Christie, while Courtenay brings a warmth and sensitivity to the tale.

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