Roy (Ian McKellan) and Betty (Helen Mirren) are two aging English people looking for companionship. They hit it off rather quickly and start to make some quick decisions. At their age, they don’t have much time to waste, so why wait? The only problem is that Roy is a conman, and his motivations for pursuing Betty are not what she believes them to be. What ensues is an exciting drama with two veteran actors, who share the screen for the first time in their careers, and a mystery that unfolds before our very eyes.
McKellen and Mirren are joined by Russell Tovey, who plays Betty’s grandson, Steven, and Jim Carter, portraying Vincent, Roy’s partner in crime. The two of them pitch in their own talents and break up the story as onlookers to the supposed relationship. But, even with them, this truly is McKellen and Mirren’s story, and they bring everything to the table.
As Roy and Betty progress in their relationship, Roy starts to push Betty into making a financial decision that would only benefit him in the end. Steven is continuously suspicious about the whole affair, as Betty’s only grandson and closest family member.
At two separate junctures in the film, the tables turn, and circumstances change. The story is turned on its head, and how the characters react to these developments is a masterclass in acting. The principle lesson is that not everything is what it appears to be.
Ian McKellan does an excellent job of playing a man wrestling with his past. As with many of his roles, notably Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, we see the wheels turning in his head, and a flurry of emotions are shown through his eyes. Helen Mirren, too, is excellent in this film. As her character is the one we know less about, in the beginning, her development throughout the story is fascinating. She is not the vulnerable old lady she seems to be.
The Good Liar will be of particular interest to older audiences, and there was a question if they would show up for this film as they did with Downton Abbey in September. Unfortunately, that simply doesn’t appear to be happening, and the film’s earnings will be modest. The Good Liar has opened with a $5 million box office, far behind this weekend’s leader, Ford v. Ferrari.
The fact that McKellan and Mirren have not starred together in the past seems almost unconscionable. These legends, with their repertoire of work, make for a great duo as they act opposite each other, and they never let the suspense ease. It truly is a delicious treat to see them onscreen together.