Picks and Pans Review: Biography: Richard Burton
A&E (Thurs., Jan. 24, 8 p.m. ET)
Surely Richard Burton’s life was full enough to rate a special two-hour Biography, but we’ll settle for this serviceable one-hour treatment. Subtitled Taylor-Made for Stardom, the program adopts the view that the virile Welsh actor with the thrilling voice wouldn’t have become a big Hollywood name if it hadn’t been for his glamorous, tempestuous union with Elizabeth Taylor, whom he married twice. Though the profile tends to downplay inconvenient facts—Burton earned two Oscar nominations and a Tony Award (Camelot) before falling for Taylor on the Cleopatra set—the premise is certainly reasonable. Drawing on the subject’s candid diaries and interviews with his associates, Biography makes clear that Burton (who died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1984 at age 58) both relished the celebrity status of being Mr. Liz Taylor and regretted the sellout that diverted him from a distinguished stage career. Burton’s movie work without Taylor (Becket, Equus) deserves more attention here, but the bio does well in showing how their costarring vehicles–from gems (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) to duds (Divorce His, Divorce Hers)—exploited their real-life relationship.
Bottom Line: Insightful but incomplete