Burton and Taylor

Mon Jul 22, 9-10.30pm, BBC4

‘It’s bizarre...’ says Richard Burton (Dominic West) to his dinner companion Elizabeth Taylor (Helena Bonham Carter), as all eyes are on them. ‘I’m mean, all these years and they’re still interested. You’d think they’d tire.’ Thirty years later and we still haven’t tired of our fascination with the twice-married pair. This entertaining biopic opens in 1983 as the divorcees team up for a production of Noel Coward’s ‘Private Lives’. Taylor appears to be angling for a romantic reunion, Burton is drawn to his ex but equally frustrated by her drinking and unprofessionalism.

West and Bonham-Carter do an impressive job of replicating the chemistry between the pair, without going for precise mimickry: both seem younger than the actors were at the time and the voices aren’t exact. It’s easy to get over this given the strong performances and script from William Ivory: this Burton takes the role of the thoughtful analyst, providing an articulate commentary on their relationship, while Taylor totters around delivering the one-liners.

Bonham-Carter doesn’t overplay it, though, and still brings pathos as the woman who reaches for the pills every time she hears a cross word - and who’s crushed to see her loved one slipping through her perfectly-manicured talons. There's more Liz and Dick action tomorrow night at 9pm on BBC4 with 'Cleopatra: the Film that Changed Hollywood'.