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The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (15)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary with Geoffrey Rush, Steven Hopkins and Markus McFeeley. 8 Deleted scenes. Making of.

FANS of comedy genius, Peter Sellers, who have no idea about his personal life, are in for a rude awakening when they watch Geoffrey Rush's portrayal of the actor, given that it cruelly exposes the tortured soul behind the laughter.

The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is a warts and all expose of one of comedy's richest talents, an intriguing and, at times, shocking depiction of the actor as he emerged from radio's The Goon Show to become one of Hollywood's brightest lights.

For beneath the charming veneer and the on-screen personas lay a man so deeply immersed in his characters that he was unable to recognise himself anymore, to the detriment of everyone around him.

Hence, the film explores his strange relationship with his parents (Miriam Margolyes and Peter Vaughan), his mis-treatment of his wife (Emily Watson), and his subsequent flings/marriages with the likes of Britt Ekland (Charlize Theron), Sophia Loren (Sonia Aquino), and the various women that made his acquaintance.

Exposed, too, are the turbulent on-set relationships he had with directors, most notably Blake Edwards (John Lithgow), who made him famous in The Pink Panther, and Stanley Kubrick (Stanley Tucci), who directed him in Dr Strangelove.

It makes for a riveting couple of hours in the cinema, and is achingly portrayed by Rush, even if much of the humour that was Sellers' big screen trademark has been pushed to the sidelines.

Indeed, if there is a criticism of Stephen Hopkins' stylish film, it's that it does tend to overlook the humour that was an integral part of the comedian's lifestyle, preferring instead to focus on the inner turmoil he felt, and the pain he brought others through many of his actions.

As depicted in the film, Sellers was capable of some heart-breaking coldness towards his children (including stomping all over his son's train set in one sequence), as well as to his wives and parents.

At the height of his success, he had little grasp on who he had become, hiding behind the characters he created for as long as he could.

Rush taps into the paranoia of the man, as well as the child-like insecurity which was born out of his early relationship with his over-bearing mother, and his continuing need to be loved.

So while there is no denying the comic genius of the performer, there's no escaping the feeling that it came at tremendous cost to himself.

Hopkins, too, handles the material with considerable aplomb, allowing viewers to sympathise with Sellers as much as they condemn many of his actions.

He may be unlikeable, yet by peppering proceedings with several recreated scenes from Sellers' movies, viewers can't help but remember the joy be brought to audiences.

The director's use of several surreal filmmaking styles also serves to keeps things lively, especially when he toys with viewers through several fantasy sequences involving behind-the-scenes trickery (such as Rush assuming the identity of key people in his life and talking to the camera).

Had the film opted to tread a little more sensitively, it might not have left such a lasting impression.

As it is, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is a painful, often difficult to watch analysis of a comedy hero that benefits greatly from Rush's virtuoso lead performance.


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