Revisiting ‘Private Lives’ with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton

Elizabeth Taylor receives roses from Richard Burton during the curtain call at the Broadway opening of Noel Coward's "Private Lives" in 1983.
Elizabeth Taylor receives roses from Richard Burton during the curtain call at the Broadway opening of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” in 1983.
(Rene Perez / Associated Press)

It’s fair to say that the 1983 touring production of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives,” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, wasn’t a high point in the couple’s catalog of professional collaborations. Critics savaged the production, which came to Los Angeles after running briefly on Broadway.

This episode in the Taylor-Burton saga is being resurrected for a new television movie that will star Helena Bonham Carter as the Oscar-winning actress and Dominic West, of “The Wire” and “The Hour” fame, as the oft-nominated Welsh actor.

The BBC production, whose title is expected to be “Burton and Taylor,” is being written by William Ivory. The movie is to be directed by Richard Laxton but no air date has been published. The news was announced this week by the BBC.


PHOTOS: Elizabeth Taylor | 1931-2011

“Private Lives” opened at the former Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills in October 1983. A review in The Times described the show as “a flat but acceptable pass at Coward’s comedy ... it’s Liz and Dick crassly spoofing themselves in public. It’s part ‘Private Lives’ and private joke.”

The production opened earlier the same year at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York. Coward’s comedy tells the story of an ex-couple who cross paths in France while honeymooning with their new spouses.

The casting of Taylor and Burton -- their first stage collaboration -- capitalized on the public’s fascination with their off-stage relationship. The couple had already divorced twice by the time they starred together in “Private Lives.”

The recent Lifetime movie “Liz and Dick,” starring Lindsay Lohan as Taylor, featured a brief sequence dedicated to a more illustrious stage production -- Burton’s acclaimed performance in “Hamlet.”


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