There’s a choice exchange in the just released Burton And Taylor trailer.
“Love is not a drug,” Elizabeth Taylor (Helena Bonham Carter) says.
“Isn’t it?” asks Richard Burton (Dominic West) in reply.
The question of the addictive quality of their union has been something that has been endlessly chewed over in biographies about the couple (and most recently in the Lindsay Lohan- starrer Liz & Dick). And it looks like it’ll be the central theme of the forthcoming BBC Four drama.
Interestingly, Burton And Taylor will by-pass the beginning of their romance (on the set of Cleopatra in 1963) and instead focuses on the period when the two starred in a revival of Noel Coward’s Private Lives twenty years later in 1983.
By this point the couple had been married (and divorced) twice and were starring in a play which was about…a divorced couple who fall back in love with each other. That this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction narrative arc could have come out of the pages of the tabloid press (who were so obsessed with the duo) was clearly not lost on Marie Brenner who penned an article about the couple in New York magazine at the time. She captured such icily exchanges like:
Taylor: “Darling you’re still wearing your wedding band:
Burton: “I know”
Taylor: “Why don’t you take it off?”
Burton: “Because I can’t get it off”
Taylor: “I see.”
As noted in the article, this was-oddly - not a piece of dialogue from the play.
Of course, if these two were around now some bright spark would have already commissioned a reality show about thes. Admittedly accusations of being ‘like a reality show’ was exactly the type of criticism which was levelled as Li-Lo’s Liz & Dick when it aired in the States at the end of last year.
Some argued that it reached Showgirls-esque levels of so-good-it’s-bad entertainment. Others thought it was just bad-bad. But after one viewing myself I had to agree that it was more of the latter than the former. From the dialogue (that felt like a Kitty Kelley scripted episode of Hollyoaks) to the investment in the intricacies of the costumes (which felt at odds with the vapidity of everything else), it felt like a heavily caricatured version of events.
From the looks of it though, it seems like Burton And Taylor has avoided some of the traps of that Lifetime special. Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West look they’ve embodied the icons with dexterity, without lapsing into cheap impersonations. Not to mention to fact that BBC Four have a distinguished history of making excellently crafted tragedies based on real life characters (Fear Of Fanny, Hattie, All In The Best Possible Taste: The Kenny Everett Story). We’re very much looking forward to this.