Billy Liar (1963): Schlesinger’s Feature Debut Starring Julie Christie and Tom Courtenay

A key work of the New British Cinema of the 1960s, “Billy Liar” features the directing debut of John Schlesinger and his first teaming with Julie Christie.

The gifted director and star would work again two years later, on “Darling,” which was nominated for Best Picture and garnered Christie her first and only Oscar Awards.

Billy Fisher (Tom Courtenay) is known to his blue-collar mates as Billy Liar because of his unusually vivid imagination.   To escape his dreary life as an undertaker assistant in a northern English town, Billy creates a mythical kingdom, Ambrosia.

When reality proves to be too complicated, Billy is off to Ambrosia, where he can be whatever he wishes to be, far away from his dead-end job and complicated love life, which is define by engagement to two women and real love for a third one.  In one of her first film roles, Julie Christie plays one of two “real” girls who wish that Billy would come down to earth.

This black-and-white version of the Keith Waterhouse-Willis Hall stage play “visualizes” some of Billy’s more outrageous fabrications.  Schlesinger captures well Billy’s periodical escapes of the drudgery of his job at a funeral parlor and his conjuring up impossible adventures and conquest of desirable women.

Following his stunning performance in “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” Tom Courtenay gives another compelling performance in a demanding role that established him as one of the most prominent actors of his generations, alongside Albert Finney and Alan bates.

The text of “Billy Liar” was later transformed into a stage musical and a British TV series.