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Look Back at England: The British New Wave

Friday, September 14, 2007
7:00 p.m. Billy Liar
John Schlesinger (U.K., 1963)

The problem child of the British New Wave, Billy Liar has always had an attitude issue, preferring to daydream, mock, and tell lies while others raged and drank. No dreary realism for this study of an outsider imagining a better world outside of his boring northern town; instead, director John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy) concentrates on fantasy and satiric lunacy, exchanging the era's typical kitchen-sink brutalities for a comic edge worthy of the best British satire. Tom Courtenay is Billy, a bored young undertaker's assistant who takes refuge from his nagging family and dullard boss by daydreaming of success and happiness. He may even find happiness in reality, once a certain beautiful young beatnik arrives (Julie Christie, in a star-making performance). A favorite of British writers and musicians (The Smiths even penned a song about it), Billy Liar is easily recognizable by anyone who's grown up nowhere at all, with only dreams to live on.

—Jason Sanders

• Written by Keith Waterhouse, Willis Hall, from their novel and play. Photographed by Denys Coop. With Tom Courtenay, Julie Christie, Wilfrid Pickles, Mona Washbourne. (98 mins, B&W, 'Scope, 35mm, From Rialto Pictures)