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The Unknown Peter Sellers (2000)

Documentary about the career of Peter Sellers.

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Credited cast:
Fred Applegate ...
Himself (as Sir David Frost)
David Lodge ...
Joseph McGrath ...
Himself (as Joe McGrath)
Himself (as Sir Harry Secombe)
Himself (archive footage)
Alexander Walker ...


Documentary about the career of Peter Sellers.

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25 April 2000 (USA)  »

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Ignores the personality and looks at the career, and is a stronger documentary for it
3 January 2005 | by See all my reviews

Peter Sellers is one of the most famous British comedians of recent times. Having made one of the greatest comedies ever (in Dr Strangelove) and having changed the face of British comedy after WWII with the Goon Show, it is easy to assume that this career was one easy succession of hits, famous films and choice roles but it really wasn't. This film looks at his career development and shows clips from some films and TV series that have been pretty much unseen since he made them in the 1950's etc.

The title implies that this documentary will delve into the personality and private life of Sellers, however nothing could be further from the truth. Rather the "unknown" in the title is more about aspects of his career than his personality and, for this focus it is actually much better. The film traces his early career which many of us will already know (The Goons), but it also shows and discusses films and TV series that few of us will have heard of, much less seen. This is all interesting and complimented by talking head sections with plenty of interesting and personal contributions.

The American accent from Applegate is a bit grating (pardon the slight pun) but I got used to it quite quickly and the extra voices all helped to cover his weaknesses. Of course this very career focused film may put viewers off and may not do anything for real fans who are familiar with his career but it was very interesting to me – albeit a little tragic at times. The focus did help it because it didn't get sucked into gossip and personal issues – it stayed with the things we are interested in (the films) and buoys that up with personal recollections. For me the highlight was the note about Dr Strangelove – I knew about Sellers playing Kong and the pie fight ending but I didn't know that it was Spike Milligan who suggested the ending that made the cut.

Overall a very good film that is focused and better for it. We get a good look at his films and career that never gets sucked into personality but instead keep to the facts while getting those that knew him to add insight and personal touches. His career was harder than I thought and it was interesting, although in my heart all I want to remember are the highs of the Goons and Dr Strangelove.

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