There is already talk of possible awards for Renée Zellweger’s barnstorming portrayal of Judy Garland.
Judy deals with the period in 1968, when the singer, badly in need of money, took the offer of a five-week booking at the Talk of the Town in London. Dependent on drugs and alcohol, insecure, lonely and desperately missing her two younger children, with whom she is battling for custody with their father Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell), she is behaving in a totally unpredictable manner and is a challenge to her patient but determined young English minder Rosalyn (Jessie Buckley) and the venue’s bandleader Burt Rhodes (Royce Pierreson) – starting with her flat refusal to rehearse.
And when Rosalyn manages to get her on stage, it’s anybody’s guess whether or not she will manage to give a performance.
Zellweger captures both the pathos of the star at this period of her life and much of the magic she still had. She sings the all those well loved songs herself and though she doesn’t have Garland’s perfect voice, in her performance she captures the spirit, passion, fragility and sometime humour of the woman, both in the numbers themselves and in her overall performance. Although Garland was only in her late forties at the time, you can see in Zellweger’s face the toll her life has taken on her.
This is well illustrated by flashbacks to the lost childhood that created her. The film indeed opens on the set of The Wizard of Oz where a somewhat sinister Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) is persuading 16 year old Judy (a convincing portrayal by newcomer Darci Shaw) that stardom is in her best interests, before we then go into the chaotic life that childhood created.
Screenwriter Tom Edge and director Rupert Goold, who adapted the film from Peter Quilter’s stage play End of the Rainbow, have told the story to good dramatic effect. One particularly telling sequence involves a gay couple, Stan (Daniel Cerquira) and Dan (Andy Nyman), who not only represent the devotion of Judy’s gay following but also remind us of the persecution “Friends of Dorothy” faced at that time. These scenes make a contribution to the film which is both funny and moving and are beautifully performed by Zellweger and the two actors.
The film is though full of good performances of well written, three dimensional characters. There is warmth and regret as well as conflict in the relationship between the estranged Judy and Sid. Buckley is excellent as the 28 year old Rosalyn, determined to do her job well but also sympathetic and supportive to her difficult charge, while Finn Wittrock brings a sexy charm to the role of Judy’s fifth and much younger husband, the chancer Mickey Deans, whom she marries in the course of the movie.