Starring: Tom Courtenay, Julie Christie, Wilfred Pickles
Director: John Schlesinger
Running Time: 98 mins
Billy Liar is a British film about a young man with a propensity for daydreaming who, in pursuit of his dreams, tells a big lie that he will be moving to London for a big new job.
As down-to-earth yet wonderfully imaginative as British cinema gets, Billy Liar is one of the ultimate ‘kitchen sink dramas’, with a perceptive and honest view of real, everyday life that blends nicely with a sweet and heartfelt sense of humour and creativity throughout.
There’s a lot to love about Billy Liar, above all the gorgeous lead performance by Tom Courtenay. As sweet as can be from the start with his innocently nervous yet wide-eyed outlook on life, Courtenay is a wonderful hero to follow as he navigates the ups and downs of being stuck in the humdrum existence of everyday life.
Without such a likable and lively main character, Billy Liar would never have been as touching and sweet as it is. Courtenay, alongside co-star Julie Christie, brings both the realism that the film’s kitchen sink drama needs to tell its story and a wonderful on-screen magic that makes his story a truly wonderful tale.
But it’s not just Courtenay who makes Billy Liar such a great watch, as director John Schlesinger does a fantastic job to bring a brighter energy to what could have so easily been a rather heavy-going, drab film.
Very much influenced by the new wave of cinema during the late 1950s and early 1960s, Billy Liar manages to pull away from some of the harsher elements of kitchen sink dramas, instead focusing as hard as it can on the brighter side of life, even when things don’t always go wrong.
That gives the film a powerfully bittersweet tone throughout which makes for some thought-provoking drama about the tragedy of normal life, and how it can so easily strip away the dreams of people who want to go out and achieve more with the short time they have on Earth.
I won’t spoil anything about the film for you, but it suffices to say that Billy Liar, for all its gorgeous and sweet innocence on the surface, still has some powerful dramatic grit to it, and that’s what makes it such a captivating watch at times.
Still, without its humour and capacity for imagination, particularly seen in Billy’s delightful daydream sequences, the film would never have had the effect that it does, which speaks volumes about how director Schlesinger’s approach to telling this story works so well.
Overall, I rather liked Billy Liar. A sweet, touching drama that blends beautifully heartfelt and imaginative storytelling with real, powerful dramatic grit, it’s a bittersweet watch that’s still a delight, particularly thanks to a wonderful lead performance from Tom Courtenay. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 7.4.