Cert 12A 118mins Stars 3
Renee Zellweger commands the London limelight in an awards worthy turn as tragic Hollywood legend Judy Garland in this straightforward biopic, which offers a sympathetic portrait but no new insight and shies away from the full horror of her life.
Based on the stage play, End of the Rainbow, it covers her five week residency at The Talk of the Town nightclub, months prior to her tragically early death in 1969, aged just 47.
Delivering a finely wrought portrayal of the troubled star, Zellweger is a charming, prickly and flirtatious figure, who weathers Garland’s dry wit with a lifetimes experience of disappointment and exploitation.
Zellweger received her second of three Oscar nominations for 2002’s film version of stage musical, Chicago, and her voice is more than good enough to emulate Garland’s career-damaged voice.
Its an increasingly uncomfortable watch as Garland battles with long-standing demons, fights a custody battle for her two younger kids, and still finds time to rack up husband number five.
If reading that sounds exhausting, imagine living her life. She’s a half starved and sleep deprived lonely needy and nervous alcoholic with a damaged throat, who is broke, homeless and unemployable in Hollywood due to her reputation for being difficult and unreliable.
There’s less singing than you may hope for, and we’re kept waiting for the first song which may not be one everyone is familiar with. Our patience is belatedly rewarded with a belting version of The Trolley Song from 1944’s Meet Me in St. Louis, and an emotional version of Garland’s signature song, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, is kept in reserve until late in the day.
In flashbacks we see Darci Shaw as the eager and winsome teenage Garland being bullied and groomed for stardom by feared heavy weight studio head, the legendary Louie B Mayer, one of the M’s of the MGM studio which produced The Wizard of Oz and made her a star.
Rosalyn, Gemma-Leah Devereux appears briefly as Garland’s eldest daughter, Liza Minnelli, Michael Gambon is the forgiving UK impressario, Bernard Delfont, and Jessie Buckley is underused as Garland’s assistant.
Touching on Garland’s status as gay icon, this is a very chaste affair, and a disastrous dinner party scene leans far too close to Bridget Jones for comfort. And while some will love the finale for it’s redemptive inclusiveness, I haven’t been this embarrassed to be English since Cliff Richard led an impromptu singalong at Wimbledon.