IN a long, distinguished career on stage and screen, which soared over the rainbow in 1939 when she donned Dorothy Gale’s ruby slippers in The Wizard Of Oz, Judy Garland was nominated for two Academy Awards in the first remake of A Star Is Born and gripping courtroom drama Judgment At Nuremberg.

Stellar performances from Grace Kelly in The Country Girl and Rita Moreno in West Side Story denied her those precious golden statuettes.

Fifty years after her death in London, Garland may have her glittering moment in the Oscars spotlight after all courtesy of Renee Zellweger’s tour-de-force portrayal in Judy.

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Adapted from Peter Quilter’s award-winning stage play End Of The Rainbow, director Rupert Goold’s impeccably choreographed drama focuses on the final

months of Garland’s life when she married her fifth husband and sought refuge on this side of the Atlantic.

Fittingly, Zellweger is the talk of every glossy frame.

Singing with her own voice in a lower octave, the Texan actress commits fully and fiercely to a showstopping, sympathetic and defiant embodiment of a fading diva enslaved to a daily regime of amphetamines and sleeping pills, which began during teenage years as a pawn of the controlling Hollywood studio system.

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When we meet Judy, she is embroiled in an acrimonious tug-of-war with third husband Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell) for care and custody of their children, Lorna (Bella Ramsey) and Joey (Lewin Lloyd).

Crippled by debt and financial mismanagement, Judy reluctantly agrees to a five-week run of shows at The Talk Of The Town nightclub in London run by Bernard Delfont (Sir Michael Gambon).

“I have to leave my children if I want to make enough money to be with my children?” she asks incredulously.

Delfont assigns despairing assistant Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley) the unenviable task of shepherding Garland to the stage each night.

Unfortunately, flighty fiance Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock) continually distracts Judy when she should be rehearsing with music director Burt (Royce Pierreson) and her band.

Tormented by ghosts of the past, notably film studio titan Louis B Mayer (Richard Cordery), a sleep-deprived Judy threatens to self-sabotage what remains of her legacy.

Judy is elevated beyond the pages of Tom Edge’s script by the luminous Zellweger.

Justifiable concerns about characterisation and dramatic momentum melt like lemon drops as she delivers crisp one-liners with fighting spirit – “I know what a bad mother is, I lived with one” – and tumbles ingloriously on stage in front of heavy-paying punters, who articulate their displeasure by throwing bread rolls.

Eldest daughter Liza Minnelli (Gemma-Leah Devereux) appears fleetingly in a party scene but is otherwise absent from the emotional wreckage.

In Zellweger’s gutsy, bravura performance, we feel every bruise and glancing blow.