why the thriller Helen Mirren is a success on Netflix
Now, based on the 2019 film’s synopsis alone, we have a pretty standard con-art plot. A suspicious con artist (Ian McKellen) pursues a widowed Oxford University professor (Helen Mirren) who has substantial savings but “nothing is quite what it seems with this brand”. It’s adapted by screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher from Nicholas Searle’s bestselling 2016 novel, but the film itself is an unexpected hit.
McKellen is utterly compelling as split personality Roy Courtnay. One minute he’s bent over complaining of knee pain to garner sympathy – and a place to stay – from Betty (Mirren). And the next day, he gouges out other crooks’ eyes and dumps them on the tracks of the London Underground.
He’s sinister, and as soon as Betty turns her back on him, his smiling, well-meaning facade quickly falls. You convince yourself that maybe he might actually fall in love with this woman, but in fact, his desire for money and theft trumps any morality here.
He’s an utterly disgusting character who teams up with other old men from Stringfellow to discuss how much money they’ve swindled from women. It’s a cruel line of work, and even within it he manages to engage in yet another investment scam – leading to some of the film’s most violent scenes.
In the recent wave of scammer-related content, we’ve seen it all. From outrageously lavish tales of fraud to immortality spells and fake deaths. And believe us, we first thought that the good liar can fall prey to the same boring romantic scam tropes and storylines. Instead, it comes to the viewer from an entirely different – and unexpected – angle altogether. That’s part of the reason we were so excited.
As we follow Roy’s tricks and espionage throughout the film, it’s actually Betty we should be watching. As she divulges details of her personal finances (of £2million, may we add) and ignores love-bombing warnings from her grandson Steven (Russell Tovey), you can’t help but want yelling at him, “Don’t say that in front of Roy, for God’s sake.
As Roy moves in and plans to reunite their assets, a trip to Berlin reveals a past that Steven is keen to let his grandmother know – the fact that Roy is actually German-born Hans Taub, who stole the identity of Roy to live. freely in Britain after World War II.
Even then, Betty accepts his convoluted explanation but just when you think you could write this movie with an expected ending, she does everything in her power to convince you otherwise. Through flashbacks, revelations quickly appear and suddenly the whole movie becomes crystal clear.
With con stories so heavily focused on the motivations of these criminals, it’s nice to see a film put the stereotypical middle-aged victim fooled in its own way. We’re not going to reveal the ending, but it’s Mirren’s performance as the doe-eyed Betty and then as a transformed heroine in the film’s final moments that really makes this film special.
the good liar is now available to stream on Netflix.