Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"This is a mainstream consideration of Garland's life but Zellweger brings fine art to its more broad brush moments." | Photo: Roadside Attractions/LD Entertainment

"You're my favourite, Judy," we hear studio head Louis B Mayer tell the young Garland near the start of this biopic that is focused not on this moment - when, at 16, she was about to shoot to fame thanks to The Wizard Of Oz - but on three decades later when many of the destructive seeds sown when she was a teenager helped lead to her untimely death at just 47. We don't need to be living in a "me too" world to know that these words come loaded, if not with sexual impropriety, although that is more than intimated here, then certainly with an expectation that she will do his bidding no matter what the personal cost.

Goold's film - adapted from Peter Quilter's stage musical The End Of The Rainbow by Tom Edge - mostly concentrates on the period when Judy (Renee Zellweger) was struggling with alcohol and drug addiction and an eating disorder at the same time as trying to keep herself together for a London run of shows to earn cash so that she could win back custody of her kids. But flashbacks to the young and aspiring Judy (Darci Shaw) underpin a film that celebrates her sheer star power and sense of fun as well as capturing the more tragic elements of her life. As she reluctantly leaves her kids Lorna and Joey Luft (Bella Ramsey, Lewin Lloyd) with their her third ex-husband Sidney (Rufus Sewell) to head to London, we feel the wrench - a shared goodbye in a wardrobe the first of many that will leave all but those with the stiffest of upper lips hunting for a hankie.

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Judy is obviously a hot and cold running mess but the film strikes an elegant balance of showing how she had long been groomed to switch on the razzle-dazzle of performance on demand. So we see that despite needing to be virtually bundled from her hotel room by concerned British assistant Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley), as she goes on stage, the years fall away.

Zellweger might not quite have pipes of Garland (who has?) but she captures her spirit in its paradoxical power and fragility - proving to be considerably more than just a the walking tragedy she is often presented as. She captures Garland's body language perfectly off-stage, filled with a fidgety anxiety but still, when the mood takes her - as it does with her soon-to-be fifth husband Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock) - more than able to turn the charm up to stun levels. Goold also knows when to leave well alone, allowing moments on stage to play out in long takes, so that we feel the full force of Zellweger giving it both barrels in numbers including The Trolley Song and By Myself. But despite the sparkle there's a constant undercurrent of melancholy - when she sings "C'mon get happy" you can feel everyone's heart break.

A side story involving a couple of gay fans (Andy Nyman, Daniel Cerqueira), feels on the schematic side, more of a nod to her fan base than a more integral part of the plot, although it, like most of the film, still manages to strike a poignant note that feels true to the spirit of the star. The bold and brassy stage numbers may be well staged but its the film's smaller moments that really pack the most punch, such as the way Judy approaches the very prospect of eating a piece of cake as though it is a bomb that needs defusing - a moment, filled with significance by Zellweger's every gesture and that takes us right back to a fake date with Mickey Rooney near the start of the film when she is desperate for an illicit french fry. This is a mainstream consideration of Garland's life but Zellweger brings fine art to its more broad brush moments.

Reviewed on: 04 Oct 2019
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Biopic focusing on the life of Judy Garland six months before her death.
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Director: Rupert Goold

Writer: Tom Edge, based on the musical The End Of The Rainbow by Peter Quilter

Starring: Renée Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Gemma-Leah Devereux, Michael Gambon, Bella Ramsey, Andy Nyman, Gaia Weiss, Philippe Spall, Fenella Woolgar, Royce Pierreson, Phil Dunster, Darci Shaw, Diana Alexandra Pocol

Year: 2019

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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