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:: The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers

You would need to have a reasonable knowledge of the genius of actor Peter Sellers to understand this inventive biography. This is a complex portrait of a funny, romantic, yet tragic figure in showbiz. Sellers was an outstanding actor, but he was insecure and often irrational off screen. That’s as far as director Stephen Hopkins takes it. The viewer will still have a good time watching Sellers at work. Geoffrey Rush is tasked with portraying Peter Sellers and does very well, particularly of the early days of Sellers’ career.

The film begins with the days when Sellers was one of the Goons in the 1950s, alongside Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe. His mother Peg (Miriam Margolyes) then pushes him into movies. His skill as an impersonator helps land his first role, opposite Sophia Loren (Sonia Aquino). She turns him inside out as he tried to make a move on her. Pressured by fame now gained Sellers throws himself at young women and abandons his wife (Emily Watson) and kids. Through his work in Dr Strangelove and the Pink Panther, he became a star but it doesn’t bring him the happiness he needs. Sellers finally realised his dream of the release of ‘Being There’, about a man with no personality. He died in 1980 at just 54 years of age.

The film pictures Sellers as a tortured genius that was so deeply immersed into his characters that he sometimes found it too hard to relate to those around him. We do miss out on seeing the child-like joy he felt in his films, instead witnessing a ruthless drive to work.

The writers and director go to great lengths in recreating the era through music and art direction. Hopkins’ tone is showbiz-lively and the design teams have fun in capturing the swinging 60s in London and the rocking 70s in Hollywood.

Rush is adept at interpreting Sellers’ characterisations and copes well with a difficult role. He makes Sellers an elusive figure and it holds the film together, in many ways. A cast of well-known faces includes Charlize Theron as Britt Ekland (Sellers’ second wife), Stanley Tucci as Stanley Kubrick, and John Lithgow as Blake Edwards support Rush although only Theron has sufficient opportunity to establish the character beyond the surface, in one intense scene when the relationship was faltering.

There are enjoyable and insightful moments but perhaps not as satisfactory a biopic to what Peter Sellers deserves. The film, like Sellers throughout most of his life, lacks something in the centre, and that’s where a classy director could have taken hold of the film. We don’t even get a chance to explore Sellers’ third and fourth marriages. The film is a sad exploration of a comic genius that couldn’t find the laughs and pleasure that he gave to others.