Billy Liar (1963)

John Schlesinger’s film features a bravura central performance from Tom Courtenay as an undertaker’s assistant escaping dreary reality through daydreams.

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“Billy Liar is a blast from the past that has lost none of its mischief, poignancy and spiky wit.”
Neil Smith, BBC Movies

Although set in the 1960s Bradford, the dilemma facing Billy Fisher (Tom Courtenay) is universal. Does he stay in the suffocating security of his work and family, dreaming of a more exciting life, or risk making his ambitions a reality? Billy Liar is based on Keith Waterhouse’s 1959 novel, which was also adapted into a play, a musical and a TV series. John Schlesinger’s film version brings Billy’s reveries to life, wittily contrasting his dour surroundings with the imaginary republic of Ambrosia where he’s a powerful ruler.

Courtenay’s poignant performance captures the mood of early 1960s Britain, hesitant before the prospect of liberating times ahead, while Julie Christie makes an unforgettable impression as the free-spirited local girl heading for London’s bright lights. Both were nominated for BAFTAs.

Similar themes are evident in humorist James Thurber’s 1939 short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, filmed in 1947 with Danny Kaye.

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