LIZ & DICK vs. BURTON & TAYLOR
I first heard news of BBC-America’s planned / TV-movie, Burton & Taylor, mere months after struggling (and ultimately succeeding) to dislodge from my memory ’s by now legendary Lifetime Network travesty: Liz & Dick (not exactly an easy task, what with its November 25th airdate reminding me of turkeys.)
Anyhow, not too keen on losing another 90 minutes of my life to watching another attempt at resuscitating interest in the private lives of Hollywood’s tabloid darlings of the 60s, I scarcely gave the BBC announcement a second thought. Then two things happened: HBO aired the exceptional Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra, reminding me that celebrity biographical films CAN be both well-acted and well-written; and earlier this month, BBC-America released the first image of stars and as Burton & Taylor. Suffice it to say that if makeup were the sole evaluation standard, Burton & Taylor has Liz & Dick beat, right out of the gate.
Another factor operating in the film’s favor; rather than attempting to chronicle the entire unwieldy romance of the volatile pair, Burton & Taylor promisingly narrows its focus and concerns itself exclusively with the trials and tribulations surrounding the couple’s final professional collaboration: a 1983 theatrical revival of 's Private Lives. As Taylor and Burton had, at this point in time, been divorced, remarried, and divorced again, their appearance in Coward’s comedy-of-manners about a divorced couple’s awkward reunion on their respective honeymoons with new spouses amounted to little more than a voyeuristic burlesque of their own on-again-off-again romantic history. And audiences didn't mind a bit. The trouble-plagued production was a hit with fans but anathema to the critics. After 11 feature films together, Private Lives marked Elizabeth Taylor's and Richard Burton’s sole foray into legitimate theater and the last time they were ever seen together professionally.
But beyond the curiosity factor of seeing how this biopic measures up to La Lohan’s film, is there any reason for audiences to get excited about the airing of a second Liz Taylor/Richard Burton flick in the space of less than 12 months? I'd say so! And here's why:
Helena Bonham Carter pretty much kicks ass in everything.
By focusing on the restaging of a theatrical event very few were around to see, we're spared having to endure cheap and embarrassing recreations of classic movie Taylor/Burton movies. (Remember Lohan and those chintzy Cleopatra sets?)
Both (The Lone Ranger, Les Miserables) and Dominic West (The Wire, The Hour) are versatile, well-trained actors with considerable theatrical and Shakespearean experience. Even at their very worst, they're bound to be more interesting to watch than Liz & Dick’s Lindsay Lohan and Grant Bowler.
By all accounts, the entire seven-month run of Private Lives was chaotic and tumultuous, to say the least. The potential for plenty of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?-like sparks and snarly histrionics from Bonham Carter and West is pretty high.
Both stars have shown considerable skill with accents in past roles. So maybe this time we’ll get a decent approximation of Liz’s halting English accent and Burton’s mellifluous Welsh.
BBC-America has an infinitely better track record for quality than Lifetime.
Lastly, both actors look positively incredible in their Burton & Taylor makeup. Bonham Carter in particular makes a fabulous looking Liz. She trades in her famously eccentric look for a glamour reminiscent of a look she adopted for A Therapy, a short film directed by Roman Polanski made in 2012 for PRADA. http://www.prada.com/en/a-therapy
Burton & Taylor is scheduled to air on BBC-America in Fall of 2013.
You can read more about Elizabeth Taylor’s films at my blog.