This strenuous but soapy real-life drama adapted from Peter Quilter’s play End of the Rainbow bookends Judy Garland’s life in a way that leaves no doubt over who it blames for the star’s later-life struggles.

Hollywood – embodied in the bullying, Weinstein-like form of mogul Louis B Mayer (the ‘M’ in MGM) – is shown stage-managing her life, crushing her self-esteem, reminding her that she was nothing without its spotlights shining down on her.

MGM, the studio that would make Gaslight, got in some early practice in the art with the budding starlet.

The dramatic choice to bolt on scenes of the young Judy (Darci Shaw) prepping for The Wizard of Oz leaves it feeling disjointed and reductive in parts. Each of her travails  gets its own origin story as Judy jags back and forth between the early years and the 47-year-old version (Renée Zellweger) enjoying a final hurrah on the London stage.

It puts its protagonist on the couch and offers a diagnosis when it would have been much better off letting its iconic star speak for herself.

Its trump card, of course, is Zellweger, who blows through the film in a gust of jittery energy, wounded ego and half-buried star quality. The transformation is startling, with dark lenses and a birdlike physicality essaying a faded but still formidable life force who’s unknowable and, by 1969, wildly over-exposed.

We see her bitter feud with ex-husband Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell) and a new relationship with handsome but shallow young entrepreneur Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), though neither hold too many surprises.

Zellweger nails Garland. She worked with La La Land vocal coach Eric Vetro to prep for the role and does her own singing.  It pays off in crowd-pleasers like Over the Rainbow, belted out to hard-to-impress London crowds.

Just when she seems on the verge of a public burnout, she produces a heart-stopping rendition of By Myself.

Judy develops a slow puncture in the second half, but this is all about Zellweger. Will it land her the Oscar that evaded Garland?

Rupert Goold

December 12

By Phil De Semlyen | 11 Dec 2019


DirectorRupert Goold
CastingRenée Zellweger, Rufus Sewell, Jessie Buckley