Judy focusses almost entirely on Judy Garland's final performance tour, of 1968, as she travels to London for a series of sold out shows. It was a last-ditch effort to resurrect her flailing career and, more importantly, to raise enough funds to give her two young children, Lorna (Bella Ramsey) and Joey (Lewin Lloyd) a stable home - Liza, 22 (Gemma-Leah Devereux) is independent and already acting.
Garland's dependence on alcohol and drugs is handled discreetly and with a sense of dignity, but her financial woes are all too obvious to see. This financial desperation was the catalyst for the decision to perform in England in the first place at the invitation of Bernard Delfont (played here by Michael Gambon) who becomes a reluctant saviour. The flashbacks from Garland's formative years, mostly from the thirties and on the set of The Wizard of Oz, portrays the male influences in her life as either exploitative or emotionally manipulative and distant. This continues throughout her adult life as her combative relationship with ex-husband Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell) causes uncertainty with her future, as she fights to be present in the lives of her young children and in her burgeoning relationship with Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), without any real emotional or financial stability.
The film is adapted for the screen by Tom Edge (from the stage play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter), masterfully directed by Rupert Goold, and beautifully acted by Renée Zellweger. There is considerable quality on display, behind the camera too, with cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkeland beautifully capturing the essence of the era and the intimate emotions of each performer. The musical scenes in particular are supremely shot, and edited by Melanie Oliver, with the attention of audience and viewer focussed entirely on the star to emphasise the isolation of being in the spotlight, alone.
Darci Shaw, as the younger Judy (having left Frances Ethel Gumm behind) also gives a tender, doe-eyed performance as an innocent teenager blind sided by fame and fortune and entirely oblivious to any potential risk and harm she will face as she becomes 'Judy Garland', and ultimately a legend. The cost was a emotional scarring which remained with her for the entirety of her relatively short and tumultuous life.
These personal battles she faced, often privately, over the decades come to the fore during these enchanting stage performances (which often devolved capriciously) as she magnificently rises to the challenge only to falter and fail due to her considerable insecurities and fears. Deep-rooted from her heinous history with misogynistic movie mogul, Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery). Zellweger is utterly believable as a struggling singer and performer and her commitment to the role is only enhanced by her choice to sing the songs herself as opposed to the often preferred option of lip syncing to a backing track.
As the older Garland (Judy at 46) Zellweger joins a long line of performers to portray real-life people and more than holds her own with a mature and emotionally nuanced performance that could arguably be the best of an almost 30 year acting career. She draws heavily on all her dramatic acting experience which bleeds crimson in the weathered veins of Judy, but it is her razor-sharp rapier wit and sense of humour which truly imbues the woman with an exquisite humanity.
For all its plus points, the only discernible weakness of the Judy Blu-ray is the unfortunate short shrift given to any Extras. The Behind-the-Scenes and Becoming Judy featurette(s) go into unsatisfyingly little depth or background. The main feature creates a delicious curiosity into the life and career of the tortured performer which is not explored or exploited in the extras compiled. The Deleted Scenes, likewise, bring no new context, subtext or understanding and perhaps should have been removed completely, much like the scenes which didn't make it into this fine movie.