Hollywood golden couple in stage smash ‘The Motive and the Cue’. Cinemagoers can now see it.    

London — A golden couple, especially when paradise is troubled, has always been appreciated. The rocky marriage of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor sparked gossip columns decades before millions followed Harry and Meghan, William and Kate, or Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce.

When the world was considerably less connected, they were like gods, said Mark Gatiss, who stars in “The Motive and the Cue,” a hit play about Taylor and Burton in the 1960s. “Yes, they were. Everyone awaited divorce.” “The Motive and the Cue” has sold out two London runs and will be shown in British and international cinemas starting Thursday as part of the National Theatre Live series.

A 1964 Broadway production of “Hamlet” in which Burton played William Shakespeare's anguished prince, was bumpy in its conception. It was almost a disaster, but the production was successful. Backstage, Jack Thorne shows Burton, played by Johnny Flynn, and the play's director, John Gielgud, played by Gatiss, at odds. Taylor and Tuppence Middleton create the central triangle's third point.

It's a humorous and emotional look at fame's fickleness and cost, directed by Sam Mendes, who returned to theater after filming James Bond films “Skyfall” and “Spectre”. It depicts Taylor and Burton in their New York hotel suite's gilded cage.

Burton, a megastar with velvet voice, wanted artistic credibility. Gatiss said that 1920s and 1930s leading man Gielgud was “completely washed up.” Gielgud was relic. He accepted because it was his greatest offer in a while.” The plot surprise came years later. Burton's drinking ruined his career, and he died at 58 in 1984. Taylor, who died in 2011, married eight times, twice to Burton, and accomplished her best work young.

Meanwhile, Gielgud's career revival brought Hollywood stardom, an Oscar for playing Dudley Moore's butler in “Arthur,” and the stature of British drama's elder statesman. He died 96 years old in 2000, admired. Even if Gielgud, Burton, and Taylor are fading from history, the drama has touched audiences.

I had two friends come the other day — they’d never heard of any of the principals, incredibly,” Gatiss stated in his Noel Coward Theatre dressing room interview. "But they understood because of the topic. Fame, reputation, legacy, dads, and sons.” This is a love letter to the theater, especially to "Hamlet," which has been performed by 250,000 actors, according to a caption at the end. Gielgud played the character in the 1930s in the West End theater where “The Motive and the Cue” is playing till March 23.

Gatiss, an actor-writer-director who plays Mycroft Holmes in the BBC TV series "Sherlock," which he created with Steven Moffatt, enjoys that coincidence. His quiet and emotional performance as Gielgud earned him an Olivier Award nomination and critic praise. The Observer called it “a mellifluous marvel,” and the Daily Telegraph called it “the performance of his career”.

If Gielgud was a relic, Burton is a symbol of a bygone era when a Welsh coal miner's son might become an actor. Teenage theater trips in Darlington, northeast England, encouraged Gatiss' love of play. He concerns that arts education cuts and rising theater ticket prices are making acting a job for the rich.

He loves NT Live, which offers productions for movie tickets. “The Motive and the Cue” is the 99th film in the 2009 series, which airs in 700 theaters worldwide. Multiple cameras, tracking shots, and close-ups give NT Live the immediacy of live theater and the intimacy of film.

Gatiss claimed arts access is dwindling. “There are many posh, ‘Brideshead’-like actors. I think we need a 1960s-style working-class arts movement.” "The irony is, theater was the great democratizer," he continued. It was as low as possible. So disreputable were actors. I think we should revisit that.”

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