21 May 2014 | l_rawjalaurence
A Requiem for Two Great Stars
In 1983 Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor appeared together on stage for the first and only time in Noel Coward's comedy PRIVATE LIVES. Although critically panned, it sold out for its entire run on Broadway, with audiences flocking to see the sight of two legendary figures bickering with one another. William Ivory's screenplay tells the story of that theatrical performance, focusing in particular on Taylor's (Helena Bonham Carter's) gradually disintegrating state of mind, as she realizes that Burton (Dominic West) has abandoned her for good in favor of his new wife Sally Burton (Cassie Raine). Bonham Carter gives a creditable impersonation of Taylor, even though she lacks that mysterious quality that kept Taylor in the public eye for so many years; in this performance, Taylor comes across as a bit of a hopeless drunk with a penchant for upstaging Burton. West's Burton seems like a dedicated actor; despite his love of money and the Hollywood high life, he never lost his professionalism, even in an obvious turkey like this PRIVATE LIVES, in which Taylor seldom knew her lines and often consciously departed from the script, in full knowledge that the audience didn't give a fig. So long as she appeared on stage, then the houses would remain packed; if she was absent, the box-office suffered as a result. In the end, however, both of them seem rather pathetic figures, mere shadows of their former selves at the height of their popularity during the mid-Sixties. We can't help feeling sorry for two actors who were so fond of the limelight that they never knew when to give up: Burton kept wanting to play King Lear, even though he was both physically and mentally ill-equipped to do so. BURTON AND TAYLOR seems like a requiem for two great stars reduced to mere museum exhibits.