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United Kingdom 2019
Directed by
Rupert Goold
118 minutes
Rated M

3.5 stars


Synopsis: In failing health, Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) arrives in London in 1969 to perform a series of sold-out concerts.

As we all know fame can be a poisoned chalice, at least as far as the entertainment industry goes. Judy Garland, born Frances Ethel Gumm, like Marilyn and Amy was a victim of the stage-managed irreality which turned public adulation into a private hell.

Rupert Goold’s film focuses on Garland’s five week engagement at the Talk of the Town in London in the winter of 1969.  With four failed marriages, her film career over and her singing career not far from it partly due to her addiction to prescription drugs which led to erratic behaviour (she had been booed off the stage during her appearance in Melbourne during her1964 Australian tour).  Broke and trying to get custody of her two young children by her third husband, Sydney Luft, she reluctantly undertakes the London engagement.

Based on a screenplay by Tom Edge which, in turn was based on Peter Quilter’s play “End of the Rainbow”, the film economically charts Garland’s mental and physical struggles to live up to her audience’s expectations, offsetting her deteriorating condition with flashbacks to her days as an MGM  contract player and the ruthless. permanently damaging exploitation of her youth and talent by Louis B. Mayer.

BBC Films under whose banner Judy was produced specializes in well-turned mid-budget entertainments for mature audiences and Goold's film is typical enough of their productions in that despite the real overarching sadness the treatment is understated, albeit, one feels, a little too much so.  Throughout her troubles its Garland is a plucky trouper, indefatigably charming to all and sundry, the story and characters neatly turned to fit a largely generic style (another example of which is last year’s Stan & Ollie which was about a troubled American act performing its last hurrah in the U.K).  Various excisions have been made and liberties taken in order to arrive at a neatly packaged narrative (the most blatant of the latter being a sub-plot involving a couple of gay fans who end up propping up an exhausted Garland in ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ in an obviously manufactured feel-as-good-as-you-can-under-the-circumstances ending.

Most of the characters are stock and their performances limited (Michael Gambon is wasted) with the small but effective exception of Finn Wittrock as Mickey Deans , Garland’s fifth husband. The rest of the film is Zellwegger’s who, remarkably, does her own singing.  Although, in trying to lose herself in the role she overdoes the facial mannerisms, notably the pursing of her lips, something which becomes a distraction, and the singing voice isn't quite Garland's, for the most part she does a very good rendition of the iconic troubled artist both on and off the stage, no easy thing given how well the real life Garland is known.

Judy is a solid journeyman film but whether it does justice to its subject is another matter. That, unsurprisingly,is  to date perhaps most closely achieved by Garland herself in George Cukor's 1954 version of A Star is Born.

FYI: If you liked Judy you should (if you haven't already) check out Annette Bening as Gloria Grahame in  Films Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool (2017). 




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