The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers

The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

In the beginning, Peter Sellers was a chubby lad. As part of the surreal, anarchic, wildly popular The Goon Show on radio, he was known and loved for his voices. By the end, gym-slim, tanned, with designer specs and fashionable slacks, he was seen in the company of younger, sexier starlets. The transformation from comic character actor in The Ladykillers and The Naked Truth to international movie star in six Pink Panthers and three roles in Dr. Strangelove was a triumph of ambition.

Judging by this film, there was a price to pay and everyone else paid it. He is seen as a mummy's boy ("Don't be a failure like your father"), with a vile temper, who ignored his children and abused his wives. The portrait of a man who had no personality and, therefore, stole others is flogged to death. As well as playing every role under the sun on screen, director Stephen Hopkins has him fantasising into the mind and skin of those closest to him and so he "becomes" his mother (Miriam Margolyes), Blake Edwards (John Lithgow), Stanley Kubrick (Stanley Tucci), et al. It's great fun for Geoffrey Rush, but not helpful as a biographical tool.

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On the one hand Sellers led a full life - look at all those films! - and on the other an empty one - his selfishness destroyed personal relationships. By rushing past The Goons, without introducing Spike and Harry, mentioning The Mouse That Roared and Carlton-Browne Of The FO in passing, reproducing brief moments from I'm All Right, Jack and then honing in on Sophia Loren (Sonia Aquino) in The Millionairess and questioning whether they did, or did not, have a fling leaves little room for the meat-and-two-veg, which is Anne (Emily Watson) and the children.

The result is schizophrenic in its approach and vicious in its intent. Sellers appears charmless and ungrateful, a small man in a make-believe world, who carries his insecurity like a bazooka on his shoulder. Rush has a field day, imitating, caricaturing, impersonating, like the cabaret act at a lunatic asylum.

After his final heart attack, when there are no more bad films to make, it is the women you remember - Margolyes, Watson and Charlize Theron, as Britt Ekland. They give performances that touch the heart. Nothing Rush can do comes close. Like Peter's voices, you admire the technique, without feeling the emotion.

Reviewed on: 01 Oct 2004
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Critical biopic of The Goon Show master-of-voices who became a Hollywood movie star.
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Director: Stephen Hopkins

Writer: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, based on the book by Roger Lewis

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Charlize Theron, Emily Watson, Miriam Margolyes, John Lithgow, Peter Vaughan, Sonia Aquino, Stanley Tucci, Stephen Fry, Henry Goodman, Alison Steadman

Year: 2004

Runtime: 122 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US/UK


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