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USA 2004
Directed by
Stephen Hopkins
128 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers

Synopsis: True to its title, this film charts the career of one of Britain's funniest on-screen characters, who, in his off-screen life, was anything but the way the world saw him. Peter Sellers (Geoffrey Rush) made the world laugh for more than 30 years, but in his private life was a sad and empty individual.

Whether or not you are a Sellers fan, one thing makes this film absolutely worth seeing - the phenomenal performance by Geoffrey Rush. With a Sellers filmography exceeding 60 titles, Rush portrays of these characters. In itself that is an extraordinary feat. On top of that he portrays (for brief scenes) several actual people in Sellers' life including his mother and the director Blake Edwards.

Starting with Sellers' career on BBC radio in The Goon Show, the film presents Rush with his first challenge - mastering the silly voices, which he nails to a tee. From there he goes on to capture the essence of so many of the famous Sellers characters, the most striking being that of Inspector Clouseau, the infuriating French detective of the Pink Panther series of movies. The vast range of accents and dialogues is so masterfully handled by Rush that, although he is not a look-alike for Sellers, we believe we are watching actual clips from Sellers films, though all have been lovingly recreated, with not an original clip in sight. Just to have Rush playing Sellers playing his three characters from Dr Strangelove is highly impressive! Supporting this is the phenomenal job done by the makeup and costume department who capture the three decades of Sellers' metamorphosis, and the changing look of the times.

Portraying the off-screen Sellers could well have been the biggest challenge, as no-one, not even Sellers himself, seems to have known this character. As is often commented, Sellers was perhaps just an empty vessel through which characters could run. But Rush's genius, and that of the script, shows us different aspects of Sellers: a little boy dominated by his ambitious mother (Miriam Margoyles); an ill-tempered and at times violent husband and father; a womaniser with delusions of his own attractiveness; and ultimately a man alternating between self-hatred and self-aggrandisement. The range of emotions that Rush traverses is impressive.

Wife number one, Anne, is played by Emily Watson and she gives, as always, a solid performance. Wife number two, Britt Ekland, is well-played by Charlize Theron, complete with a convincing Scandinavian accent. Director Blake Edwards is played by John Lithgow,  with Stanley Tucci portraying Stanley Kubrick. Stephen Fry has a cameo as a shyster fortune teller.

Hopkins steers the film with a sure hand and, helped by the interesting script, gives us a biopic that is something more than the familiar formula. Although Sellers comes across as somewhat unlikeable, from its '60s cartoon style upbeat opening through to its clever conclusion, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is sure to entertain.




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