Setting the Scene
The Lifetime movie got a lot of promotional publicity for featuring the nearly un-hireable Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor. The question everyone was asking was whether Lohan was acting, or just playing a version of herself?
The similarities between the lives of the two stars are remarkable. Both found fame as child actors and grew up in the spotlight. Neither ever had a true private life. Both have been surrounded by entourages that limit their access and connection to the real world.
Around the time that publicity for the film started, I heard about the book “Furious Love” by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger. Released in 2010, the book tells the story of the couple’s tumultuous relationship and life in the spotlight. Taylor and Richard Burton were the original celebrity couple. The Vatican publicly condemned their relationship. Paparazzi followed them everywhere.
The book, which is thoroughly researched and thoughtfully written, has more endnotes, indices, sources and citations than a doctoral thesis. It gives historical context and tells a grounded story about a sensational couple with lavish lifestyles.
Watching the Movie
Sometimes I like to say I saw a film rather than a movie. Unfortunately, I can’t even bring myself to refer to this movie as a film. Film implies craft, care and quality. This movie has none of that. Full disclosure: I watched this movie on an airplane so I was a captive audience. Having read “Furious Love,” I actually looked forward to a chance to see “Liz & Dick.”
I knew it would be campy. I knew there would be a multitude of times when I wondered if a moment was more Lindsay or more Liz? I knew plenty of moments, especially the “Cleopatra” era ones would easily translate into funny pictures or memes. I didn’t know, however, that it would be unwatchable.
It was possibly the worst movie I have ever seen. Ever. And I’ve seen a lot of movies.
Part of what made it so bad was knowing how good (and interesting and compelling) the source material was. Plenty of movies take artistic license to make characters more beautiful, more alcoholic, more articulate, more wealthy or something else more interesting than the source material provides.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton bought a yacht so they could bring their dogs with them wherever they went and avoid pesky quarantine laws. Yes. They bought a yacht for their pets. Richard bought Elizabeth the most decadent jewels on the market. They socialized with Princess Grace, the Duke of Windsor (formerly the king of England) and other royals, celebrities and staples of upper crust society.
And yet, none of that is properly communicated in this movie. Much of the movie is set in a sort of “third place” kind of a blackbox theatre where Burton and Taylor discuss the events of their remarkable lives. The device is trite and boring and kills the pace of the movie.
For those that don’t know, Burton and Taylor were both married when they met on the set of “Cleopatra.” They quickly fell into a torrid affair that was blasted all over the media, divorced their respective spouses and eventually married. Several years of extreme alcohol use (by both of them), filmmaking, traveling and fighting followed. Then divorce. Later they remarried and again divorced. On his deathbed, Richard wrote Elizabeth a letter. She wouldn’t receive it until after he’d died, but had he lived they might have reconciled once again.
If you’re interested in the story of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton don’t waste your time with “Liz & Dick.” Do try reading “Furious Love” which manages to be correct and compelling simultaneously.