Based on a West End hit play by Keith Waterhouse (who wrote the novel) and Willis Hall, Billy Liar is an imaginative, fascinating film. It is perhaps unfair to label the film as entirely realistic, since it moves into a world of Walter Mitty-like fantasy, and that is its only weakness. These scenes lack impact.
Billy Liar (Tom Courtenay) is a day-dreaming young man who leads an irresponsible life as a funeral director’s clerk. He fiddles the petty cash, he is at war with his parents, he has become involved with two young women who share an engagement ring. Above all, he is an incorrigible liar, dreaming dreams and, whenever possible, retreating into an invented world where he is the dictator of an imagined slice of Ruritania.
Courtenay who took over from Albert Finney in the legit version of Billy Liar, has a hefty part and is rarely off the screen. Of the three girls with whom he is involved, Julie Christie is the only one who really understands him. Christie turns in a glowing performance. Helen Fraser and Gwendolyn Watts provide sharply contrasting performances as the other young women in Billy Liar’s complicated, muddled existence.
Mona Washbourne, as his dim mother, Wilfred Pickles, playing a hectoring, stupid father, and grandmother Ethel Griffies also lend considerable color.