Burton and Taylor, the BBC biopic about the on- and off-stage drama behind Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s last theatre appearance together, comes to BBC America this Fall.
Two decades before they took their first and last curtain calls together, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor — two of Hollywood’s most talented and sought-after stars of their time — met while filming the epic Cleopatra. Their affair made headlines. (The kind that today’s celebrities dream, or have nightmares, about.)
So began the chronicling of Burton’s and Taylor’s glamorous yet tempestuous on-again, off-again relationship in the media and public eye. Married, then divorced, then married and divorced again, it’s no wonder their reunion for a particular play stirred the public interest and aroused all kinds of speculation.
Starring BAFTA Award winners Dominic West (The Hour, The Wire) as Richard Burton and Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech, Alice in Wonderland) as Elizabeth Taylor, Burton & Taylor follows the goings-on of the famous together-one-day, apart-the-next couple as they prepare for the play.
It’s September 1982. Taylor and Burton are holding a press conference to announce that they will star in the Noel Coward comedy of manners play, Private Lives. Its lead characters, Amanda and Elyot, are divorced and honeymooning with their respective new spouses when — surprise! — they discover they’re staying in adjoining rooms at the same hotel and reunite.
Given Burton and Taylor’s history, rumors start to swirl and conjecture is the order of the day. Could their production of Private Lives mean a possible third marriage for the pair?
But rehearsals are strained and so are nerves. Elizabeth is often late and doesn’t know her lines. Richard suspects she has substance abuse issues and, as a recovering alcoholic, has his own demons to deal with. When the play opens in Spring 1983, critics pan their performance but audiences lap it up, and the entire run in New York City is sold out.
Truth can be stranger than fiction, and the public’s fascination with what they see as parallels between the play’s plot and the stars’ lives causes Richard to feel exposed. As backstage tensions mount between Burton and Taylor, their still-stormy relationship puts the play in peril of closing.
BBC America, which co-produced the made-for-TV movie, premieres Burton & Taylor on Wednesday, 16 October at 9 PM Eastern as part of its Dramaville line-up.