Now these two do Burton and Taylor right

West and Bonham Carter in the tale spun as a universal story about love won and love lost.
West and Bonham Carter in the tale spun as a universal story about love won and love lost. (GUSTAVO PAPALEO)
Posted: October 16, 2013

Nothing compares today to the epic story of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's tumultuous relationship. Not even the Justin Bieber-Selena Gomez hookup.

An epochal, iconic, paradigmatic story of celebrity love, sex, marriage, divorce - and rehab - the Burton-Taylor yarn is the Antony and Cleopatra of our generation. (And we're all the more twisted for it.)

The Burton-Taylor tale is dramatized on TV for the second time this year in Burton and Taylor, a wonderful, if flawed, British TV movie that features a master turn by Dominic West as Burton and a surprisingly fresh take on Taylor by Helena Bonham Carter. It will be shown Wednesday at 9 p.m. on BBC America.

Larger than life, Burton and Taylor were explosive together. They burned up the screen as Antony and Cleopatra in Twentieth Century Fox's 1963 extravaganza Cleopatra, and set off a nuclear chain reaction that would lead to two marriages (from 1964 to '74 and 1975-76) and a decades-long orgy of sensational media coverage.

BBC America's film doesn't try to cover the couple's entire relationship, as did Lifetime's miserable Lindsay Lohan-fueled Liz & Dick last year.

Writer William Ivory (2011's Women in Love) restricts the story to the stars' famous 1983 Broadway revival of Noel Coward's Private Lives, a comedy about two former spouses who reunite while on holiday with their respective new loves.

In Ivory's telling, Taylor picked Coward's piece in a shrewd move to cash in on the play's similarities to her famous relationship with Burton. She was right: It was a smash hit.

Things weren't so smashing on the personal level.

Bonham Carter, who looks eerie in Taylor's massive hydra hairdo, plays Liz as an addict who can't let go of booze, pills, or her greatest drug, Burton.

West has perfect command of the Welsh Burton's unique voice and intonations. Sober after years of suicidal boozing, Burton is deeply engaged with literature, theater, and poetry, and seems to have little time to contemplate the then 50-year-old Taylor's still impressive figure.

What makes the film especially memorable, and equally flawed, is its single-minded determination to drive out all the sleaze and scandal that so defined Burton and Taylor's love affair. Ivory doesn't spin a celebrity tale here but rather a universal story about love won and love lost.

Burton and Taylor is a textured, rich drama about the loss, the yearning, and the rage left in the wake of every great love affair.

A 'Reign' of terror

The pitch meeting for Reign must have been classic: "It's like The Tudors crossed with Gossip Girl!" It is!

The latest addition to CW's slick youth offerings, Reign is ostensibly a historical drama set in 16th-century France. Adelaide Kane stars as a sexy, spirited, smart version of Mary, Queen of Scots, a ruler who grew up in hiding in France. She's, like, really hot for the dude she's supposed to marry, France's super-studly crown prince, Francis (Toby Regbo). But he has reservations.

As in Gossip Girl, Mary and her equally hot ladies-in-waiting must solve mysteries, unravel court secrets, and overcome the many treacherous, dangerous obstacles that stand in the way of true love.

The pilot sets up the first danger: Francis' mom Catherine de' Medici is determined to prevent the marriage because her adviser Nostradamus (yes, that dude) has seen a troubling vision: Mary will lead Francis to his death.

Reign is a bit of forgettable froth that might amuse you for a few minutes.


TV REVIEW

Burton and Taylor

Wednesday 9 p.m. on BBC America. www.bbcamerica.com

Reign

Thursday at 9 p.m. on the CW (WPSG-TV) www.cwtv.com

 


tirdad@phillynews.com

215-854-2736

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