Renée Zellweger shines in a project that always presented a real challenge.


Renée is Judy


What a huge disappointment this film is despite the fact that its star Renée Zellweger playing Judy Garland gives a bold and brave performance. In saying that I cannot speak for everybody - partly because Rupert Goold’s movie is in effect two films in one. Inevitably younger audiences, who may or may not be engaged by the film’s portrayal of the troubled singer in the last year of her life, will view Judy from a quite different perspective than we older viewers. I am one of those able to find nostalgic appeal in this recreation of the tail end of an era when Garland impinged greatly on so many (one critic called her the greatest living singer in English). Nevertheless, it will doubtless also be the case that reactions from those older audiences will vary too - after all, I myself have never understood the appeal of those very popular stage shows in which singers unlikely to be the equal of the original devote an evening to the songs of an artist now dead.


In the event however, the real problem here lies for me not in the portrayal of Garland (Zellweger, who could well be an Oscar contender for this, uncannily catches the intonations of her speaking voice and recreates her singing too) but in the screenplay. To be fair Tom Edge adroitly hides the act that his work here was based on a stage piece but, in deciding to concentrate on the events of 1968 save only for a few clumsily inserted flashbacks to her days on the set of The Wizard of Oz, he fails to find any dramatic momentum within this period of decline. Individual scenes touch on a range of matters: her erratic behaviour during stage appearances in London, her concerns about access to her children by Sid Luft, her appeal to gay fans (this aspect being illustrated by an improbable encounter with a gay couple) and her involvement with the unreliable Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock) who would become her fifth husband. Throughout its length Judy jumps backs and forth between these elements and they do indeed illustrate her ups and downs. But what they don’t do is to provide a flowing, structured drama and, furthermore, they are for the most part accompanied by the kind of music score that continually reminds us that we are watching a movie.


In line with these weaknesses, the subsidiary figures count for little. Michael Gambon appears so briefly as the impresario Bernard Delfont that he hardly registers. Rufus Sewell as Sid Luft gets only a couple of scenes and the role of Judy’s allotted assistant in London is so feebly written that it totally wastes the talent of Jessie Buckley who blazed earlier this year in Wild Rose. Several songs are heard, but only ‘By Myself’ gets a full all-out treatment ahead of the film’s big climax which occurs when, having been dismissed, Garland makes a an unsolicited final appearance on stage at The Talk of the Town. This episode is pure schmaltz and some viewers may exult in that but Garland, justly a legend, stands for more than that and the tone of Judy never does her justice. As it happens much of the ground covered here is already on film: I Could Go On Singing, Garland’s last movie, was made five years earlier and is not her best but, even so, through her portrayal of a fictitious character close to herself it enables us to relate directly to a singer living on her nerves and conflicted by the cost of her need to perform as it affects her relationship with her young son. In short, that film brings us far closer to Judy Garland than this one does.




Cast: Renée Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Royce Pierreson, Andy Nyman, Daniel Cerqueira, Michael Gambon, Richard Cordery, Darci Shaw, Bella Ramsey, Lewin Lloyd, Gus Barry, Gemma-Leah Devereux, John Dagleish, Lucy Russell, Ed Stoppard, Fenella Woolgar.


Dir Rupert Goold, Pro David Livingstone, Screenplay Tom Edge, based on the stage show End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter, Ph Ole Bratt Birkeland, Pro Des Kave Quinn, Ed Melanie Ann Oliver, Music Gabriel Yared, Costumes Jany Temime.


Pathé Productions/BBC Films/Ingenious Media/Calamity Films/Confit Productions-Pathé/20th Century Fox.
118 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 2 October 2019. Cert. 12A.