There will not be many people who are not already familiar with some if not all of the life story of Judy Garland. From being catapulted to stardom at the age of 17, playing Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, to her troubled adult life of crippling self doubt, depression and drug addictions that would eventually end her life 30 years later, at the age of 47.
The new biopic ‘Judy’ is set in 1969, with the film studios no longer willing to hire her, we find Judy broke, with no permanent address and struggling to make ends meet by working up and down the US performing in nightclubs and bars with her two youngest children.
In desperate need of money and stability to enable her to retain custody of her son Joey and daughter Lorna, and with no other option, Judy accepts an offer of work from the UK.
Judy then arrives in London to perform sold-out shows at the Talk of the Town nightclub at the same time as beginning a whirlwind romance with her soon to be fifth husband Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock).
We find Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) already heavily addicted to prescription drugs. Taking pills to help her sleep, pills to keep her awake and even pills to get her on stage and with the clever use of flashbacks to young Judy (Darci Shaw), we soon realise this was not through personal choice.
The flashbacks are the key for us as the audience to fully understanding the abuse Judy Garland was subjected to in her early career by studio head Louis B Mayer (Richard Cordey) and are cleverly used to push the story along and fill in the blanks.
The film concentrates on the five week residency at the Talk of the Town and we get a real sense of how tortured and alone Judy Garland must have felt. Opening night goes well as for the first time we hear Zellweger sing (so good). Although this film is not littered with musical numbers and is more about what happens off stage rather than on.
Renée Zellweger is amazing. Just from the trailers alone you get a real sense that this is Renée’s career defining role. Renée must have worked so hard on getting it right, it truly feels more than just acting the part and more like becoming the part.
Of course there are others in the film, ex husband Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell), theatre producer Bernard Delfont (Michael Gambon), Personal Assistant Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley) to name a few of the supporting players. But when Renée is on screen, which is pretty much all the time, she was all I could watch, mesmerising.
As Judy’s relationship with Mickey unravels, and a television interview spirals out of control, Judy has a melt down of epic proportions. This means she is no longer able to hold it together enough to get on stage and perform without passing out. This ends up signalling the end of her career and unfortunately the film.
However in the closing scene is one of the most powerful 5 minutes I’ve seen on screen for an extremely long time. We see Judy come back for one last song and boy it’s a big one, I don’t think I will ever be able to watch the Wizard of Oz again in quite the same way.
All in all, this is a great film, I was completely drawn in and would highly recommend it.