Entertainment & Arts

Burton and Taylor drama on BBC Four warmly reviewed

Burton and Taylor
Image caption West and Bonham Carter's performances were largely praised

BBC Four's television drama Burton and Taylor has been warmly reviewed with many critics lamenting the BBC's budget cuts to original British drama.

Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West starred as ageing Hollywood actors Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Sam Wollaston in the Guardian said "Bonham Carter and West are excellent. There's a crackle between them".

In its review, The Metro said "the decision to axe BBC Four's drama budget looked dafter than ever."

It added: "Capturing that chemistry on screen is no mean feat, so don't bet against the names Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West popping up when the awards season rolls around.

"Credit too to director Richard Laxton: Burton And Taylor would not have looked out of place on the cinema screen."

The drama centred on the formerly married couple's reunion on the Broadway stage in 1983, for a revival of Noel Coward's play Private Lives.

Having fallen in love on the set of Cleopatra in 1963 while they were both still married, the pair went on to wed and divorce twice but they remained friends.

'Budget cuts'

Adding to its praise for the actors, the Guardian review continued: "They become two people who clearly are and always will be in love, but can never be together, for reasons of health and safety. It is another very good double act.

Image caption Burton died a year after starring in Private Lives

"The real sadness here is that's it for these brilliant BBC Four biopics. Budget cuts, no more money for original drama."

In 2011, the BBC announced a 10% cut to drama on the channel as part of a larger exercise to cuts costs across the corporation.

In his three-star review, the Telegraph's Chris Harvey said: "We knew what we were going to get. BBC Four biopics have been set almost exclusively in the laundry closets of British celebrities, where insecurity, unhappiness and infidelity lurk.

"This one was no different: it gave us two ageing former spouses who just couldn't get on."

The Independent's Geoffrey Macnab called Burton and Taylor "a fascinating but very flawed affair".

"The central problem the drama faces is that Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter are so far removed from the sacred monsters they are playing. They give intelligent and nuanced performances without coming remotely close to capturing the grotesquerie or magnificence of Burton and Taylor."

"As a story about old lovers and colleagues working together for one last time, Burton and Taylor is affecting and well observed. As a portrayal of the two stars, it is off the mark."

The Huffington Post reserved special praise for West's "understated performance" as Burton, calling it "the more affecting of the two".

"All in all," the review added, "it was an absorbing tale of two icons witnessing the end of their own era. And it was all too fitting as the last in-house drama outing from BBC Four.

"Judging from the standard of this swansong, it's an undoubted shame. No doubt we'll look back on this, as we now remember Burton and Taylor, and one day remark, they don't make them like they used to."

Image caption The couple fell in love on the set of the overblown and over budget Cleopatra

The drama earned a four-star review from Anna Smith in Time Out, again praising the performances of the lead actors.

"West and Bonham Carter do an impressive job of replicating the chemistry between the pair, without going for precise mimicry: 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."

The Times' five-star review said: "This was a drama loaded with the lavish richness it deserved, as the starry couple wore their past love like the most enduring hangover."

The Daily Mail's Christopher Stevens singled out Bonham Carter, saying she "caught the husky drawl and the bored manner to perfection".

However, he added West "fell far short".

"He looked like a much younger Burton — in 1983, the great actor was jowly and raddled, ripe for the stroke that killed him.

"But West sounded like John Humphrys, and he exuded none of the menace, thunder or charisma that had bewitched audiences."

The lukewarm review concluded: "That's what this drama lacked: the colossal flamboyance of Burton and Taylor when they were gods."

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