John Schlesinger’s 1963 working of Keith Waterhouse ’s novel is generally but unjustly grouped with the kitchen sink dramas of the same period. It has a gritty setting, using Bradford as Billy’s hometown, and the style of photography is similar, but Billy Liar, unlike say This Sporting Life or A Taste of Honey, is a bittersweet comedy, at times a farce, albeit eventually with more bitter than sweet about it.
Beneath the comedy there is sadness, and in the end anyone with a mind is forced to realise most of us are more Tom Courtenay ’s Billy stuck in Ambrosia, fantasists who will never attain fame, than his girlfriend Liz played by Julie Christie , who at the end is on the train to possibilities and opportunity while Billy engineers a return to mediocrity – or has circumstance force it upon him.
Courtenay gives a dominating performance in a career-making part, but the supporting cast which features Wilfred Pickles as his father, Helen Fraser as his sweeter fiancée, the great Rodney Bewes as his mate and Leonard Rossiter Billy’s annoying employer, frame his role perfectly.
Current top 10
3: The Railway Children
4: The Italian Job
5: Life of Brian
7: The Third Man
8: The 39 Steps
9: The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
10: Local Hero