Renée Zellweger is sensational in Judy, a deeply moving account of Judy Garland’s final months in London directed by Rupert Goold
“I just want what everybody wants. I seem to have a harder time getting it.”
As if there were any doubt, Judy is a phenomenal success, and should see its star Renée Zellweger add to her tally of Academy Award nominations, if not the award itself. Loosely based on Peter Quilter’s play End of the Rainbow, it recalls the final year of Judy Garland’s life as a roll of the dice sees her decamp to London to perform in a series of concerts that she hoped would reignite interest in her career whose light was seriously fading in the US.
But years of substance abuse and the relentless ride of showbusiness have taken a serious toll, even just turning up on time proves a struggle (hard relate!) and that iconic voice can no longer be relied upon. Thus Tom Edge’s screenplay takes a slightly more realism-based approach than the play to show us the riskiness that accompanied Judy’s every step towards a stage and the slow, crushing realisation of what her life has amounted to.
You don’t have to be a friend of Dorothy to love this film but it sure helps. The performance sequences are a pure work of art, as Zellweger nails the demeanour of a performer worn out by years of abuse but who is also periodically electrified by the love of an adoring audience. And when she’s not being heartbreaking, she’s drily witty, making this a surprisingly funny film too, not least in the brilliant evening she spends with a couple of gay fans.
Around her, there’s all sorts of good work – Rufus Sewell as long-suffering ex-husband Sidney Luft, Jessie Buckley as slightly prim assistant Rosalyn Wilder, John Dalgeish’s kindly Lonnie Donegan – but Rupert Goold’s film shines its spotlight so brightly on Zellweger’s Judy that most fade into the background somewhat. And rightly so, it’s a magnificent tour-de-force of a performance that is deeply felt and perfectly played – a most fitting tribute indeed.