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Richard Burton season at the BFI


Richard Burton certainly lived his life to the full. Born in the small mining village of Port Talbot in Wales, he went on to become one of the most famous actors of his era, throwing in plenty for the gossip columns too with five marriages (including two with Elizabeth Taylor). And to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death, the BFI is offering up a long-overdue retrospective with highlights from his entire career.

That means everything from his debut in the late 40s in The Last Days of Dolwyn through his famous roles in the likes of Cleopatra (1963) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), along with his cult roles in movies like the superb Villain (1971).

See over the page for the full schedule, with the season kicking off on 6th August 2009.

BFI website

Richard Burton: Lion of the Welsh
Tony Earnshaw, head of film programming at the National Media Museum, Bradford, explores the work of a fearless and versatile performer. Lion of the Welsh is a lively and objective re-consideration of Burton’s oeuvre, using many of Burton’s own words and clips from his films
Thu 6 Aug 18:20 NFT2 Tickets £5

The Last Days of Dolwyn
Emlyn Williams’ portrait of the class divide in late-19th-century Wales is both a curious time capsule of
cinematic theatricality and a perfect example of 1940s film melodrama. Williams (as writer, director and
leading man) is the bitter and resentful boy-done-good who returns home with plans to flood the valley of his birth. Burton (in his film debut) is the proud local lad who sees through his lies.
UK 1949 Dir Emlyn Williams With Edith Evans, Emlyn Williams, Alan Aynesworth 95min U
Sat 1 Aug 15:20 NFT2, Fri 7 Aug 20:30 NFT2, Tue 11 Aug 14:00 NFT1-Seniors’ Matinee

My Cousin Rachel
Burton took on what could have been a thankless task – playing second fiddle to Olivia de Havilland’s arch villainess – and landed his first Oscar nomination. My Cousin Rachel makes the very most of its origins and lays on the gothic atmosphere of Daphne Du Maurier’s story. At its most basic this is a
whodunit that asks audiences, via Burton’s suspicious eyes, to believe de Havilland’s smile masks pure evil.
USA 1952 Dir Henry Koster With Olivia de Havilland, Audrey Dalton, Ronald Squire 98min PG
Wed 5 Aug 18:10 NFT3, Sat 8 Aug 15:50 NFT2, Tue 11 Aug 17:50 NFT1

The Robe
A self-important Biblical epic in the vein of Cecil B De Mille, The Robe represents a mighty adaptation of
Lloyd C Douglas’s tale of the conversion of the Roman tribune who witnesses the crucifixion of Christ. The first film in CinemaScope is over-blown and pompous, but conveys the era’s penchant for grandiose showmanship. Burton acts as if for the theatre rather than the sound stage but emerges largely unscathed.
USA 1953 Dir Henry Koster With Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, Michael Rennie 135min PG
Sun 2 Aug 15:00 NFT1, Wed 5 Aug 20:20 NFT3
Bitter Victory

Two soldiers vie for the affections of the same woman during the Allies’ desert campaign in WWII. Burton is the fl awed hero, Curt Jurgens the superior officer whose wife Burton once romanced. The love triangle
forms the backdrop to an intense tale of jealousy and cowardice played out beneath the blazing sun.
USA 1957 Dir Nicholas Ray With Curt Jurgens, Ruth Roman, Raymond Pellegrin 103min 15
Mon 3 Aug 18:30 NFT1, Wed 5 Aug 14:30 NFT3, Sun 9 Aug 20:30 NFT3

Look Back In Anger
Burton tears into Jimmy Porter, the ‘angry young man’ of John Osborne’s bitter and acerbic play. Social realism meets explosive theatricality as the learned, frustrated and deeply misanthropic Porter rages against the world, abandons his mousy wife and begins an affair with her best friend. In one of the earliest ‘kitchen sink’ dramas, the crisp cinematography (by Ossie Morris) brings Porter’s dismal existence to electrifying life.
UK 1959 Dir Tony Richardson With Claire Bloom, Mary Ure, Gary Raymond 98min PG
Thu 6 Aug 20:40 NFT2, Sun 9 Aug 15:50 NFT2

The VIPs
Art imitates life as an oil magnate and his bored wife play out their romantic travails against the backdrop of a London airport shrouded in fog. Burton and Taylor are the ostensible leads of this all-star pageant, though some would argue their role-playing was rather too close to home for comfort. Louis Jourdan is the gold-digging gigolo with his eye on the rich man’s wife.
UK 1963 Dir Anthony Asquith With Elizabeth Taylor, Orson Welles, Margaret Rutherford 119min PG
Fri 7 Aug 18:10 NFT2, Tue 11 Aug 20:40 NFT2

A magnificent spectacle with a majestic, multitudinous cast, Cleopatra is arguably modern cinema’s biggest, brashest, most sprawling historical epic. Based on the biography by Carlo Mario Franzero, Cleopatra is an example of runaway film-making at its most uncontrolled, with the added sparkle of witnessing the Taylor-Burton dalliance explode into a full-blown love affair. For sheer style and verve
it remains unequalled.
UK-USA-Switzerland 1963 Dir Joseph L Mankiewicz With Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison, Roddy McDowall 243min + interval 70mm PG
Sat 8 Aug 18:00 NFT1, Mon 10 Aug 18:10 NFT1

The volatile relationship between old friends and sometime enemies Henry II and Thomas Becket is explored in this intense portrait of petulance and defiance. Creating both a consideration of friendship corrupted by power, and an unflinching depiction of idealism and faith, Peter Glenville pits two of the
most hot-blooded performers of the 1960s against one another and watches the resultant fireworks. A prime example of two stars in perfect sync.
UK 1964 Dir Peter Glenville With Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud, Donald Wolfit 149min PG
Sun 9 Aug 17:50 NFT2, Fri 21 Aug 20:10 NFT3
The Night of the Iguana

Partnered with man-eater Ava Gardner, prim Deborah Kerr and teen nymphet Sue Lyon, Burton plays a defrocked priest desperately attempting to navigate his way through his shattered life in John Huston’s magnificent adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play. Despite the usual Williams maelstrom of passions and sweatiness, Huston injects some pleasurably sly humour and is repaid with remarkable performances, particularly Burton’s.
USA 1964 Dir John Huston With Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, Sue Lyon 118min 12A
Wed 12 Aug 20:40 NFT3, Fri 14 Aug 17:50 NFT1, Tue 25 Aug 14:30 NFT3

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
Burnt out, cynical and set for the knacker’s yard of espionage, shabby spy Alec Leamas gets an unexpected chance to revenge himself on his Eastern Bloc opponent. Things are complicated when
he starts falling for left-wing activist Nan. Stark, downbeat and beautifully  shot in crisp black and white by Ossie Morris, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold offered Burton the opportunity to show the flip side of 007.
UK 1965 Dir Martin Ritt With Claire Bloom, Oskar Werner, Peter Van Eyck 112min PG
Thu 13 Aug 18:10 NFT3, Sun 16 Aug 20:40 NFT2
The Taming of the Shrew

This zesty, witty romp is extraordinarily good fun as lusty Petruchio pursues tempestuous Katharina to make her his wife. An unrestrained, bawdy comedy spectacular, The Taming of the Shrew is a rumbustious adventure as Taylor is pummelled, pounded, kicked, slapped, spanked and generally knocked around by Burton as he woos, wins, weds and finally domesticates his fiery love. One of the very best filmed Shakespeare plays, and produced by the Burtons.
USA-Italy 1966 Dir Franco Zeffi relli With Elizabeth Taylor, Cyril Cusack, Michael Hordern 122min U
Thu 13 Aug 20:30 NFT3, Sun 23 Aug 15:40 NFT3

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Over the course of an apocalyptic, drunken evening, college professor George and his blowsy, shrewish wife Martha tear each other to pieces while the college’s latest recruit and his mousy wife watch and participate in open-mouthed horror. A biting, excoriating adaptation of Edward Albee’s play, the film garnered Oscar nominations for all four principals, with only Taylor and Dennis winning. Burton lost for the fifth time.
USA 1966 Dir Mike Nichols With Elizabeth Taylor, George Segal, Sandy Dennis 132min 15
Sat 15 Aug 15:10 NFT2, Mon 17 Aug 18:10 NFT1, Thu 27 Aug 14:00 NFT3

Doctor Faustus
Burton partnered with his former Oxford University tutor Nevill Coghill for this curious exercise in theatreturned- film. In a wayward portrait of corruption and obsession there are moments of magic with Burton’s performance giving a hint of the power of his stage persona. A self-indulgent pet project, Doctor Faustus remains a curio, not least for Elizabeth Taylor’s (mute) cameo as Helen of Troy. Burton’s sole venture into direction.
UK 1967 Dir Richard Burton & Nevill Coghill With Elizabeth Taylor, Andreas Teuber 93min PG
Tue 18 Aug 20:45 NFT3, Wed 19 Aug 18:20 NFT2

Anne of the Thousand Days
Frustrated by his pious wife’s inability to produce a male heir, King Henry VIII sets his sights on Anne Boleyn, the young daughter of an ambitious courtier. Burton roars his way through this absorbing biopic as the absolute monarch whose word is law. In her film debut, Geneviève Bujold matches Burton in the acting stakes in a role that Elizabeth Taylor was told she was too old to play.
USA 1969 Dir Charles Jarrott With Geneviève Bujold, Anthony Quayle, Irene Papas 146min PG
Fri 21 Aug 17:50 NFT2, Sun 30 Aug 15:20 NFT3

Under Milk Wood
Two rollicking, nocturnal visitors pass through the quiet cobbled streets of the sleepy Welsh town of Llareggub. Sinclair’s inspired film adaptation of Dylan Thomas’ ‘play for voices’ casts Burton and Ryan Davies as the drunken strangers. A formidable Celtic ensemble breathes life into Thomas’s verse, lifting the lid on the quiet town and its delightfully eccentric inhabitants. A beautiful verbal epic haunted by the twin spectres of death and nostalgia.
+ Dylan Thomas
This beautifully shot, atmospheric, Oscar-winning documentary eloquently honours Thomas using
many of the locations where Thomas himself grew up and found his inspiration. Richard Burton trudges
along the windswept shore at Laugharne, mixes with the drinkers in the local pub and re-visits Thomas’s
poetry to produce an atmospheric, evocative and elegiac tribute that benefi ts hugely from its Bible-black
monochrome photography.
UK 1962 Dir Jack Howells 31min U
Mon 24 Aug 18:10 NFT2, Thu 27 Aug 20:20 NFT2

Less a crime thriller than a fascinating study in psychosis, Tuchner’s feature debut combines the East End’s Ronnie Kray with White Heat’s Cody Jarrett to create cruel, mother-fi xated homosexual gangster Vic Dakin. A genuine (and rare) character study by Burton, Villain offers up an authentic milieu – that of the plausible crime kingpin who rules through fear, charisma and unpredictability. If Burton’s accent occasionally wavers, his menace does not.
UK 1971 Dir Michael Tuchner With Ian McShane, Nigel Davenport, Donald Sinden 98min 15
Sat 22 Aug 20:50 NFT2; Wed 26 Aug, 18:10 NFT1; Fri 28 Aug 20:30 NFT3

Psychiatrist Martin Dysart is charged with unravelling the unsettling mystery of why troubled youth Alan Strang (Firth) blinded six horses with a metal spike. Adapted from his Broadway smash by Peter Shaffer, Equus retains its theatrical feel but is lifted by Burton’s mesmeric, Oscar-nominated performance as the tormented shrink. An absorbing  movie: part psychological drama, part detective thriller and part dysfunctional family portrait.
USA 1976 Dir Sidney Lumet With Peter Firth, Eileen Atkins, Colin Blakely 137min 15
Wed 26 Aug 20:20 NFT2, Sat 29 Aug 15:40 NFT3

Nineteen Eighty-Four
In the totalitarian state of Oceania, perpetually at war with one or other of its neighbours, love is a crime.
When lowly clerk Winston Smith falls in love, the machinations of the state are targeted against him. In his final film performance Burton delivers a chilling, understated portrait of sinister intransigence as the dead-eyed Party inquisitor, O’Brien. Shot in desaturated, grainy colour by Roger Deakins.
UK 1984 Dir Michael Radford With John Hurt, Suzanne Hamilton, Cyril Cusack 110min 15
Sat 29 Aug 18:30 NFT3, Mon 31 Aug 20:40 NFT2


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