Judge Brett Cullum finds it extraordinary how effective cheap drama is when it concerns Liz Taylor.
The love that would never die.
Burton and Taylor provides a small concentrated retro snapshot of two stars as they embarked on the last project they would ever do together. In 1983 Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton starred in an infamous Broadway run of Noel Coward's Private Lives. It was a phenomenal box-office success, but got a critical drubbing. Not only was it an artistic flop, but it was also the subject of constant gossip. The stage production was plagued by rumors of strife, backstage fighting, and lots of unnecessary drama that had little to do with Noel Coward and everything to do with its high-strung leads.
In this BBC production, we have Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club) and Dominic West (300) giving their best to become two icons of the glorious Hollywood studio days as they fall on their luck low enough to have to do theatre. They don't either of them truly look like Taylor and Burton, but they do commit to embracing their essence in the emotional complexity of a tortured relationship. They are playing two very famous actors who were married twice, and now they have to face off on stage in a very bitchy proper English comedy. It stirs up old torments and addictions like nothing else, and that is what makes Burton and Taylor tick.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, BBC's delivers a gorgeously detailed transfer. Colors are cold when the drama calls for it, warming up during the more tender scenes. Detail is fine, and there are no digital artefacts. Audio is Dolby 5.1 surround with most of the dialogue in the center channels, and just a few atmospheric effects in the rear ones. There are English subtitles and they are suitable for the hard of hearing. Extras include two brief featurettes on the production, but at least they offer all the actors and most of the vital crew talking about the project. It's not robust, but at least there is some effort here to give us context.
Helena Bonham Carter is an unexpected choice to play Elizabeth Taylor, but by the end it made sense to me. She's not the kind of actress who is a good mimic, but she does capture a sense of the charming lunacy that was Elizabeth's trademark. In truth nobody could ever live up to the legend so she fights valiantly in a battle she can never win. She simply decides to bring herself to the role more than trying to copy Taylor to a tee, and that works okay.
Dominic West has an easier job with Burton, who was simply a man's man with a golden throat. He does right by Burton's legacy making him compassionate and yet hard-headed simultaneously. He fares well, coming off as the heart and soul of the film.
Burton and Taylor plays it much smarter than the recent Liz and Dick by handling just a brief time period in the couple's lives. It's fun to see them square off in a theater rather than on a film set, and there's plenty of rich folklore to draw from. Another smart move comes from that the film doesn't take any one side—both Elizabeth and Richard seem crazy about and towards each other the whole time. They are poster children for the dangers of addictive love, and proof positive that exes are best left out of your business life once they are gone from your bedroom. As crazy as these kids are, we almost root for them to give it all one more go—and you are left wondering if that might not have happened if Burton had lived longer or if they would have ever met sober.
It's a guilty pleasure to see Bonham Carter do Taylor and West take on
Burton, so these two are free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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