There can be fewer people in the film world who embody the moniker ‘flawed genius’ better than Peter Sellers. Adored throughout the world for his hilarious comic creations – not least Inspector Clouseau – the ‘real’ Sellers was wracked with private torment and a chronic lack of confidence. It’s a curious balance which director Stephen Hopkins exploits to lift The Life and Death of Peter Sellers above the usual biopic fare.
The film follows Sellers’ rise from radio Goon to becoming Britain’s most gifted comic actor on screen. Many of the set piece ‘film within a film’ scenes recreate his most famous character’s exploits and they are just as funny this time round. Gradually his fame rises until Hollywood comes calling, throwing his personal life into sharp relief.
As a counterpoint to the heady showbiz lifestyle he finds himself enjoying, we also see Sellers as the struggling family man. He swings a from generous and funny home movie enthusiast to toy smashing tyrant within seconds leaving his children bewildered and his wife increasingly alienated.
Women feature heavily in Seller’s life – from his possessive mother Peg (Margolyes) and first wife Anne (Watson) to the more glamorous Sophia Loren and Britt Ekland (a scarily accurate portrayal by Charlize Theron). He turns to them in times of crisis – which seems to be much of the time – looking for childlike comfort as much as anything else.
Rush is in magnificent form as Sellers. Producers shied away from using heavy prosthetics to get the exact look and relied instead on the skill of the actor. It is a testament to Rush’s ability that he ‘becomes’ a wholly believable Sellers with the use of little more than a pair of trade mark specs. Peter’s skill as a mimic are echoed by Rush as he takes on the roles of the important people in his life at several points in the film.
So Peter Sellers is a paradox then. On the one hand a director’s nightmare – a womanising megalomaniac who likes to party, on the other a director’s dream – charming, inventive and very, very funny. It is the pathos which anchors the film ultimately. For all the joy he brought to others, Sellers suffered in equal amounts.
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is a homage to one of Britain’s greats. If we don’t get to ‘know’ the man himself, it may be that the ‘real’ Peter Sellers never stood up. It is never the less a fascinating insight. (tiscali.tv)
1.37GB | 02h 01mn | 608×336 | avi