Legendary performer Judy Garland arrives in London in the winter of 1968 to perform a series of sold-out concerts.
At the outset, Judy Garland is 14 years old and is being told by her studio manager, Louis B. Mayer, that she has a gift other girls do not have. Judy’s talent at singing is nearly unmatched while she is able to surpass the success of Shirley Temple as a Hollywood child star. Judy is then shown in her forties, performing with her two children from her marriage to Sidney Luft, her third husband. Later, Judy and her son and daughter try to check into their hotel, but are turned away for previous nonpayment. Because of this, Judy is forced to return home to Luft, who has since divorced Judy.
At a party, Judy meets Mickey Deans, a nightclub owner, and they become close friends. In a flashback to Judy’s teenage years with Mickey Rooney, her studio minder interrupts a date to give Judy amphetamines to help control her appetite. The action returns to 1969, with Judy seeing an agent who tells her that Britain is open to her, but that the U.S. reception to her has cooled and become unworkable due to her growing performance unreliability. Judy decides to embark for the UK, leaving her two children with Luft, which is difficult for her.
In the UK, substance abuse issues keep her from performing reliably on stage. Assistants are called upon to check on her health and fix her make-up. Judy makes it to her London première, but is late. The fans are enthusiastic. Her performance is excellent and in top form. The film has another flashback to Judy at 14 years old. She complains about being fed with pills to help her meet her schedule demands. Back to London in 1969, she is performing again and starts to sing the “Clang, clang, clang…” lyrics to “The Trolley Song” to strong applause.
During rehearsals the next day, she sings “Get Happy” with an authentic quality which brings her accompanist (one of a duo of fans she met at her stage door with whom she returns to their apartment for a late night snack) to tears because of the irony of its lyrics in comparison to her increasing frailty of health. Mickey comes to London on a surprise visit which cheers her up. Judy still has trouble making her stage performances on time because of substance abuse issues and anxiety. She appears to not know at one point if she is performing in San Francisco, Chicago or London. Flashback again to Louis Mayer talking to Judy at 15 years of age with Judy portrayed as exhausted by her childhood schedule.
Her sponsoring British agent has her examined by a voice specialist medical doctor. Judy says she had a tracheotomy years ago which weakened her voice. The doctor diagnoses physical and mental exhaustion which requires rest for recovery. Her relationship with Mickey is a support to her personal life and they marry. He is her fifth husband. Judy still thinks about her children and suffers from being separated from them. The children, however, are happy in school in California. Mickey has bad news about a money deal which fell through which means she must stay in England in order to make ends meet. At her next performance, she passes out on stage and is heckled. Judy ends her touring engagement but returns for a last night on stage where she asks to perform one last song. She breaks down while singing “Over the Rainbow” but recovers with the encouragement of supportive fans and is able to complete the performance. Judy asks, “You won’t forget me, will you?” to the audience, who gave her a standing ovation before she ends her performance by saying “Promise you won’t.”.
She does not live long thereafter and dies in the summer of 1969, six months after her London tour.
The film is set predominantly from 1968 through the end of Judy Garland’s concert series in London in early 1969, less than six months prior to her passing. The majority of the film is during this time period, with scenes and images of her teenage years with MGM, interspersed.
The film opens with a younger Judy Garland (Darci Shaw) on the set of THE WIZARD OF OZ. She is following the MGM studio manager, Louis B Mayer around. Louis tells Judy that there are plenty of girls out there that are prettier than her, but that she has something that they do not have…the ability that her voice has to reach someone’s heart. However, if she wants to live a life like all the other girls do and work in a restaurant or be a stay at home mom, then she could walk right out the door with no strings attached.
Judy apologizes profusely for her desire to be “normal” and that perhaps a chance to go out to the theater once in a while to see a movie with others would help. Louis scoffs and notes that if that is the case, then they could just bring in Shirley Temple for the film, instead. They reach the musical director, and they start the opening chords to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
The scene melts to 1968, where we see Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) much older and with her two youngest children, Lorna and Joey. She is dressing Joey and commenting that he needs to stop growing because it costs her a new set of pants every time. They are wrapping up a series of concerts at New York’s Palace Theatre where she is given an envelope of $150. A sum recognized as not what she was hoping for, but it is better than nothing.
After the concert, Judy and her children head back to the hotel to sleep only to find that their room was released due to non-payments. Realizing that her children were tired and hungry, she resigns to take them to their father’s home, her third ex-husband, Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell).
At Luft’s home, Sid and Judy argue about what is best for the children. Judy, as their mother, expects them to be with her. Sid explains that what the children need is stability. And emphasizes that the children may stay with him, but that she is not welcome to stay the night. Judy leaves Sid’s home and heads to her eldest daughter: Liza Minnelli (Gemma-Leah Devereux).
It is at a party that Judy meets with her daughter, Liza, and finds out that Liza will be opening a show in a couple of days. After Liza confirming that she is excited and not nervous, a friend of Liza’s pull her away to the dance floor, and Judy meets Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock).
Mickey Deans enchants Judy enough that she turns down an invitation from her daughter to go to another party, and instead sticks around and stays up till morning with Mickey joking and chatting.
Flashback to teenage Judy and she is having lunch with Mickey Rooney. Mickey convinces her to eat a fry, and with much hesitation, she does. She jokes that they have to tie her hands to the chair to prevent her from eating more, and she would have to eat the fries with just her mouth. She then asks Mickey “are we on a date?” to which he replies that they have to ask permission from the studio head, he just thinks of Judy as a really good friend. As Mickey starts to take a bite from his burger, Judy playfully steals it and almost takes a bite of it only to be stopped by a studio minder who reminds her of her diet. Judy complains of being hungry, wherein the studio minder gives her a couple of pills and tells her to “take those, they will stave off the hunger” to which Judy complies. The camera pans out, and you see the moment as if it was in a movie scene surrounded by camera, press, and those behind the camera.
We switch back to the “present day,” and Judy’s manager explains that without money in the bank, she is unable to provide and support her children. He then suggests that if she went to London, she would be greeted with open arms. Judy argues that she has to stay in the states with her kids, but is confronted with the reality of her situation.
Judy takes a taxi to Sidney Luft’s home and has a talk with her children, explaining that she has to leave for London to make money so she can buy a home for the three of them to stay in forever. Joey is upset and goes into his room, with Judy and his sister Lorna following. Judy takes his stuffed toy and suggests that she stays there with them because she wants to stay there with them. Judy then goes into the clothing cabinet and closes the door, pretending it to be a roomy home that they could all stay in (but still visibly upset with the situation). Eventually, she invites her children in with her, and they all fit in the clothing cabinet. They have a group hug with her saying, confirming that “this is where I belong.”
Judy is in the backseat of a car heading to the hotel where she meets her minder, Rosalyn, that takes her to her room with her upcoming schedule for the upcoming week. Judy dismisses her and attempts to make the most of her situation. During the next days, Rosalyn picks her up, and they go to the rehearsal hall, even though it isn’t where she would be singing, the minder admits that the acoustics are amazing. There Judy meets her bandleader, Burt, who profusely admits his admiration of her, and goes to start rehearsing, except Judy complains of the dampness of the area. She walks around the rehearsal space as they talk about the location of the band and the audience, and decides that she cannot rehearse that day and needs rest. Burt asks about the setlist, and she states that it hasn’t changed from what she has done in the past and that it will be fine, despite opening night being the next day, and leaves. Judy spends the remainder of the day trying to reach her children, to no avail, and is unable to sleep. She walks just outside of her hotel at 3am and is sent warm milk as a way to try to fall asleep.
Opening Night, Rosalyn realizes that Judy is late to the performance and hunts her down in her hotel room and finds her sitting in the bathroom. The minder and makeup artist dress her up and rush her back to the concert hall and push Judy onstage, despite her complaints of not feeling well. Judy appears to “click” into stage form and has an excellent opening night performance. After the show, Rosalyn finds Judy exhausted and crying, and tries to help clean her up so that she might go home and rest. Judy thanks her and says that she will meet her outside. Starting her concert stay in London.
During the above, there were two flashbacks scenes:
The first is teenager Judy taking pills in an attempt to go to sleep as she is unable to sleep.
In the second, we find her on a prop couch where the studio minder finds her, and Judy complains that she is unable to sleep anymore, why can’t she sleep? The studio minder takes her to another set where MGM is celebrating a “Judy turns 16” party even though her birthday is not for another couple of months. It is a beach/summer-themed party with a tank set up as a pool. The studio minder instructs Judy to cut the cake, but to fake eating the cake as she is not allowed. Judy starts to argue back, saying that her contract guarantees her one hour a day for lunch and that she would like that one hour for lunch, to which the studio minder says, “no one ever does that.” As the cameras prepare to roll, the studio minder reminds Judy not to get her hair wet, to which Judy walks to the edge of the pool, pulls off her dress and jumps in. The camera follows her underwater, and we see her with a smile on her face.
After a slew of relatively successful shows to follow the successful Opening Night, we come to the holiday season. We see Judy in her dressing room, Rosalyn asks if she needs anything and Judy says that she’ll be fine. Judy asks if there is anyone at the stage door? Rosalyn says that she doesn’t know, and Judy wishes her goodbye.
Judy heads to the stage door and meets two male fans who have loved her for years. They mention that they missed her show in 1964 and decided to see as many of Judy’s shows as possible during her current stay in London. After a bit of small talk, Judy asks them if they would like to hang out with her for dinner. The fans, in shock and thrilled, take her around London only to find that everywhere they went was closed. So instead they invite her to their flat, and she accepts.
At the fans’ flat, they started to make omelets, except one of the fans, added cream “to make it better,” and you find Judy comfortable in their presence. Later in the evening, one fan falls asleep on the couch, while Judy and the other. Play a card game and continue to talk about how difficult it is to be themselves in the current world. After a bit, the fan goes to the piano and starts to play “Get Happy,” to which Judy sings. Before the end of the song, the fan slowly starts to break down and stops altogether and cries. Judy goes to him and gives him a hug from behind and notices through photos that the two fans are a gay couple, and are also massive fans of Judy Garland.
Scene changes to Judy walking alone down a street… then cuts to Judy sleeping for the first time in who knows when but is suddenly interrupted by incessant knocking. Judy opens the door and is about to chew the bellboy out for bringing her room service on a day that she didn’t ask for any and that for once, she can sleep, who then whispers that “there is someone underneath the trolley.” Out from underneath is Mickey Deans, who has come to surprise Judy.
It turns out Mickey Deans purchased a one-way ticket to London to visit Judy with no plans for anything else, as he came straight to the hotel from the plane, and Judy invites him to stay with her.
Judy has an interview where the interviewer attempts to needle more into her private affairs and her life working and growing up with MGM, to which Judy is very defensive. Which triggers her anxiety and causes her to run late in starting her show later that evening. Rosalyn gets her on stage, where the audience begins to heckle and throw food at her. As Judy attempts to sing, you see that she is unwell, and eventually, she collapses on stage. The scene cuts to Judy on the floor of the bathroom, and Mickey Deans waxing poetic about the world treating people like them as objects, and no one knows them as they know them.
We flashback to after Judy jumped into the pool. The studio minder directs the costume/ makeup staff that she wants Judy ready and dry within five minutes only to be stopped by Louis B Mayer, who dismisses the women and instructs Judy to enter a prop shed. Louis closes the doors and reminds Judy that she is Frances Gum, her father is a faggot, and her mother only cares what he cares about Judy. If Judy wanted to swim in a pool, she is welcome to his pool anytime and reminds her that he created her, he can break her as well. Judy apologizes for her actions and attempts to make amends by stating how much she has been working, and she was looking for a small break. But Louis insinuates that if she feels that a break is needed, he could find anyone else to do what she does, and he chose her. Louis walks to Judy and places two fingers at her chest to emphasize his point. Judy understands the insinuation and apologizes again, to which Louis leaves, saying, “don’t ever postpone another one of my films again.”
Back in the present day, Judy is talking to the London concert manager, Bernard Delfont, apologizing for her previous behavior and asks for forgiveness, to which he says “already forgotten” and that “had I know you weren’t well I wouldn’t have asked you to do the show.” The Bernard then says that he wants her to visit the doctor who will inject her with medication to aid with her strength.
Judy is at the doctor’s office, whom the doctor is a fan. He finds out that Judy had a tracheotomy two years previous, which weakened her vocal cords. The doctor talks about how, in his youth, he adored Dorothy Gale, to which Judy notes that most boys were attracted to the pigtails. The doctor disagrees and notes that it was how Dorothy took care of Toto that endeared him to the character. Looking at Judy, the doctor says that she needs to take care of herself and leaves.
Judy and Mickey are walking in London, much closer and comfortable with one another. Mickey explains that there is a deal that he is working on where someone he knows is planning to open a series of movie theatres calling them the “Judy Garland Theater” and that he going to push to try to have Judy 10% of the profits so that she could purchase the home she always wanted for herself and the children. This would also allow her to no longer have to tour to live. Thrilled, Judy admits that she feels comfortable around Mickey, and they have a connection. Mickey agrees, to which Judy proposes that they marry, much to Mickey’s surprise and shock. Eventually, he agrees, and they are married soon after.
There is a montage of shows where Judy is singing better than ever overlaid with scenes of:
- Judy and Mickey’s marriage, Rosalyn and Burt surprising the newlyweds with a firework show in their honor.
- Mickey on the phone eyeing the younger dancers, whilst trying to convince his connection to hold on the deal until he makes it back to the states.
- Mickey talking to his connections about the deal he previously mentioned to Judy.
Judy is resting in her hotel room, and knocking is heard. Assuming it was Mickey, she opens the door happily only to comes face to face with Sidney Luft, who asks her to go out for a couple of drinks. At a pub later, Sid attempts at small talk in regards to her time in London and the show, which leads to his belief that the kids need stability. However, Judy disagrees and explains that she is doing all she can so she could provide that stable life for her kids because she wants them to be as “far away from this phony business” as possible. Sid finally admits that it is the children that wanted to stay where they are, that they do love and miss their mother, but they also want stability. This revelation causes Judy to bite back at Sidney and leave the pub to the hotel room.
Once Judy enters, she sees Mickey’s briefcase and is instantly calmed that he has returned. However, Mickey doesn’t return Judy’s enthusiasm attempting to explain to her that people still consider her unreliable and difficult to work with and ergo because of that reputation he is unable to close the deal. This upsets Judy so much that she accuses Mickey to be no different than all the other men in her life that sit at the sidelines as she is singing in concerts and assume that is work. Mickey bites back, saying that if she stayed off the drugs and was more consistent in her work ethic, he would have been able to close the deal. This causes Judy to leave the hotel room in anger and heads to her show.
At the concert, Judy’s anger takes over and that in combination with the heckling from the audience is forced off the stage, to be replaced by the backup act: Lonnie Donegan. Judy wanders aimlessly through the streets of London and comes across a phone booth. She puts in a few coins and connects with her children. Judy talks to her daughter, Lorna, who admits that they miss her, but they do like being able to go to school, and not having to move all the time. Lorna then asks if her mom would be ok, and Judy thru her sadness, says that she’ll be fine, and says that she loves them both, before hanging up.
The next day, Judy has packed up all her belongings and is ready to leave. Her concert series, having abruptly ended Rosalyn explains they have one more surprise for her. In the restaurant at the hotel, they are joined by Burt, and a cake arrives for Judy. Rosalyn cuts the cake and gives Judy a slice. As the other two start to eat the cake, Judy stares at her piece. Eventually, she eats a piece of it and admits that it was good, and continues to eat another piece. After admitting that there isn’t anything lined up for her yet, Judy asks Rosalyn if it would be possible to see the show of her backup act.
Flashback and a younger Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland just got offstage in joy. Mickey suggests that they leave and enjoy the evening, but the continuous applause catches Judy’s attention. After a little back and forth, Judy turns down Mickey’s invitation and stays to listen to the applause.
Back in the present day, Rosalyn and Judy are backstage, Rosalyn asks if Judy will be ok, and Judy admits that she’ll be fine. Rosalyn leaves to sit in the house, and Judy sees Lonnie prepping to be onstage. In the meantime, the couple we met earlier is at the ticket booth demanding a refund on their tickets because they came to see Judy Garland only to find that she is no longer performing. Cutting back to the backstage, Lonnie and Judy greet, and Judy wishes Lonnie luck in his act, but after a moment, asks if she could have just one last song with the audience to make up for the disastrous night before. After a few moments, Lonnie agrees, and Judy goes onstage and tells Burt to pick a song. Judy sings “San Francisco,” which catches the attention of the couple outside, forcing them to run to their seats, and ends in rousing applause.
Judy starts to leave the stage only to find she loves it too much and admits she might have one more song left in her. She talks about the song and how people seem to equate it to being a destination, but she sees the song is being about the journey and the steps one takes during that journey. She sits at the end of the stage, closest to the audience and begins to sing “Over the Rainbow.” As she nears the end, she breaks down, unable to finish the song.
The couple then stands and starts to sing the chorus of “Over the Rainbow,” triggering the rest of the audience to do the same. Judy stands and smiles, relishing in the audience’s love and asks into the microphone, “You won’t forget me, will you? Promise you won’t.”