Saturday, December 06, 2008


Billy Fisher (Tom Courtenay) is a young 20-something guy, a clerk at an undertaker's firm, living with his parents in a working-class town in England. He does a number of strange things to escape his drab life; primarily, he lives a fantasy life as a ruler of a kingdom called Ambrosia, but he also steals calendars from his work place for no apparent reason, is engaged to at least two women, occasionally walks around town as though he's blind or crippled, and has convinced himself that he's in line for a big show biz job in London writing for a famous comedian. He does have some talent (we find out that he and a friend have written a "Twist" song which gets performed at a local dance hall), but he has no practical ambition. He's pals with a true free-spirit named Liz (Julie Christie), and at the climax of the film, we think she's finally talked him into leaving with her for London, but the lure of comfort, bland and unsatisfying as it is, may be too much for him.

This film came near the end of the "Angry Young Man" cycle of British films, and though it shares with those films a bleak view of everyday life, there is little anger here, except the anger of Billy's father toward his son for not making a useful life of his own. Courtenay goes a long way toward making the character of Billy likable, and overall the movie's mood is not a downbeat one, but neither is it very comic. I guess realistic is more like it, and that may be why it doesn't quite work for me. It keeps feeling like it's going to take a turn one way or the other, but never really does, so Billy winds up at the end almost exactly where he was at the beginning. The fantasy scenes are fun (and sometimes surprisingly elaborate for what looks like a relatively low-budget film), and today a viewer might make the assumption that Billy was a high-functioning autistic. Christie is quite good in her breakthrough role, and Mona Washbourne and Ethel Griffies are fine as Billy's mother and grandmother. A fantasy scene of Billy machine-gunning people put me in mind of the later IF..., a more interesting movie about young people and fantasies. The print on the Criterion DVD is in great shape. [DVD]

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