February 23, 2014

Love is the Drug: BURTON & TAYLOR

(Special thanks to BBC Home Entertainment for providing a complimentary DVD for review)

They were one of the most dysfunctional couples in pop culture. Married - and divorced - twice, noted for their addictive and dysfunctional behavior. And yes, they inspired a Lifetime movie featuring Lindsey Lohan.

Thankfully, the BBC's Burton & Taylor  isn't that television movie - in fact, despite some flaws it's a very warm, tender observation of a couple learning how to live with each other....and to live despite each other.

Focusing on their 1983 revival of Noel Coward's Private Lives, the film provides a portrait of two people - one getting healthier and facing personal demons; the other seemingly lost in addictive behaviors - attempting to sort out their feelings for each other. While one party is attempting to seemingly revive their relationship, the other is playing it safe and sober...and the drama comes not from high-pitched antics, but from the efforts of two people to learn how to be adults.

Although it's an exceptional film, the script seems to be relatively one-sided in how it portrays the pair. Dominic West (of The Wire) captures an actor towards the end of his life who is gaining - and in some ways, regaining - a high level of self-respect. But Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth Taylor....well, she seems way too broad, too much of a drama queen....but that is precisely the point. Somehow, despite the separate styles, both actors have a strong chemistry, and the movie never threatens to sink to the depths of Liz and Dick.

This is a very good Sunday afternoon movie - the kind of film that can be viewed, enjoyed, and that provides a touching coda to one of the tumultuous pairings in popular culture. I expected Burton & Taylor to be a bit over-the-top; the fact that it's subdued - and is still extremely powerful - makes it a definite must-view.

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