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Let there be no doubt that Peter Sellers would be an enormously
difficult part to play. He has to be one of the few actors in film
history who is more complex than the characters he played. (unless one
considers actors such as Paul Walker... let me rephrase that, one of
the few TALENTED actors) And it would be hard to imagine the man who is
still infamously remembered as Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther
series being played in as flawless a manor as by Geoffrey Rush here. He
wasn't the most obvious choice to play Peter Sellers, but he proved to
be the wisest one. The man deserves countless praises, not only for
playing Sellers himself to perfection, but also for flawlessly
re-creating pretty much every film and radio role Sellers ever played,
from Dr. Strangelove to Chance the gardener to Clouseau himself.
(beginning in a hilarious sequence on an airplane when Sellers hassles
an airline stewardess in Clouseau character) But it doesn't stop there
- all throughout his life (or at least so shown here) Sellers struggled
with the notion that despite the rampant personalities of his screen
personas, Peter the man never really had much of a personality himself.
To show this, Sellers reenacts sequences of his real life with himself
playing different characters. It is in these delusional sequences that
Rush shows his true mastery - he doesn't give us "Geoffrey Rush as
Peter Sellers' mother", he gives us "Geoffrey Rush as Peter Sellers as
Peter Sellers' mother". Words can't describe the amount of recognition
Geoffrey Rush deserves, and a solitary Golden Globe simply doesn't do
Despite the fact that virtually the whole show centers around Rush and his masterful performance, he is backed up by a strong supporting cast and crew. Director Stephen Hopkins was also an odd choice for the project, given his past credentials ("Lost in Space"? "Predator 2"?)but he proves to have the cheeky sense of humour the film needed to be taken seriously, starting off with a surreal 60's style animation sequence with Sellers showing clips from his own life. And it's nice to see some higher profile actors taking the back seat here, such as Charlize Theron, delightfully ditzy and yet not quite a parody as Sellers' airheaded second wife Britt Eckland. Emily Watson brings class and understated strength to her role as Ann, Sellers' first wife, and, as we are led to believe, the only woman he ever truly loved. (despite the fact he left her and their children to pursue a relationship with Sophia Loren which never happened) Stanley Tucci plays Stanley Kubrick in a brief yet important role during the filming of Dr. Strangelove - his eyes showed what his words could not: how irresponsible and hazardous to he production he perceived Sellers to be. Miriam Margoyles, better known as Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter series is formidable as Peter's domineering, manipulative mother, portrayed as the main reason for Sellers' fractured state of reality. And John Lithgow is an excellent Blake Edwards, blending his eternal optimism and energy with a sense of self pride, which he is forced to swallow, asking Sellers to return for numerous Pink Panther sequels. Lithgow, with his obnoxious laugh, is a constant high point throughout the film.
Yet, after the viewing is finished, the watcher feels strangely empty. Sure it looked classy, and it felt classy to watch, so why shouldn't it be classified as a great movie? Perhaps it's because 'The Life and Death of Peter Sellers' feels more like a series of snapshots, and not like a proper biography. We are presented with WHAT Sellers did in his lifetime, but never really shown WHY. There's an irritating lack of depth, which the viewer fails to notice during the movie, so captivated are we with Rush's wonderful acting. But when we reflect on the film afterwards, we realize that we still don't really know who Peter Sellers is. We know what he did, but not why he did it. This may be an intentional decision on Hopkins' part, because, as we are led to believe, Sellers didn't really understand himself that well. So no one really knew who Peter Sellers was... not even himself. And we should be content with that.
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers has to be one of the most creative,
complex and revealing non-documentary movies ever made about an actual
person, living or dead, and the inspired casting of Geoffrey Rush is
spot on - he's magnificent in all the various and sundry Sellers
guises, especially the ones from Dr. Strangelove and The Pink Panther's
bumbling inspector. The rest of the casting is excellent too,
particularly Charlize Theron as the second "B.E." in Seller's life,
The thing I liked most about this movie was how the script let us see how Sellers created his characters - how he was constantly "in character" or inbetween characters. He admits in the movie to being an empty vessel, with no personality of his own; this is what allowed him to be such an insufferably cruel bastard to all the people who were closest to him: he used his immersive, endlessly obsessive artistic process as a weapon and, ultimately, as a substitute for being human.
It's always brutally hard as an artist to find the balance - you have to be true to your work, naturally, and as an actor especially you're constantly redefining your inner reality, but you can't do it at the expense of the people who love you and whom you profess to love; there has to be emotional and mental discipline otherwise you become psychotically self-indulgent, as this film showed Sellers to be. The most poignant scene in the movie for me was when Sellers, in his typically childish and deranged state, tells his little daughter, "I'm an empty shell, there's nobody inside," words to that effect, and she answers, with a sad wisdom that no child should have to learn to possess, "Yes, daddy."
I'm a sap when it comes to movie watching so the peeling away of the
character of Peter Sellers made the film a hard watch for me. That in no
way implies anything derogatory about this wonderful film, just that
Seller's life as depicted on the screen made me uncomfortable watching it as
it unfolded before me.
Intellectually I can understand the forces driving Sellers but I find it difficult when these forces begin to devour the personality behind them as happened to Sellers throughout the film. You're left with those timeless questions about the price of greatness and with this movie you're left with even more than the viewer might be expected to deal with.
It was not pretty watching the Greek tragedy that was the life of Peter Sellers and now, having seen the movie only several hours ago, I have great respect for Rush and the director for having crafted such a brilliant film. I can't imagine another actor who could have brought Sellers to life so accurately. The film was far from straight forward-it pulsed and entwined itself around Seller's life such that the viewer was challenged constantly to involve themselves with the characters rather than being a dumb waiter between screen and viewer.
A tough, excellent film not to be missed.
For anyone interested in Peter Sellers life and work, this film is
certainly worth watching, if for nothing more than the incredible
re-creations of scenes from Sellers' films. Geoffrey Rush is
transformed into a nearly dead-ringer for Sellers, through the magic of
make up and prosthetics. But as talented as he may be, no one can
recreate the subtleties of the master, especially the use of his
Sellers' eyes were by far the funniest aspect of his physicality:
narrowing, widening, always moving, punctuating his actions and
illuminating the emotions within, even as part of the most farcical of
Such a rich and varied life would lend itself to a miniseries but of course it would be a copout to suggest that at least a glimmer into the life of a man couldn't be done successfully within two hours. What this movie drove home for me was how terribly short the human lifespan really is, and how little time we have to truly discover ourselves and come to terms with our own frailties. I felt that the basis of Sellers unhappiness, which manifested itself in inexcusable cruelty to his family, friends and co-workers, was a direct result of his childhood, which was never really addressed in this film. It was, in his own words to Michael Parkinson, not a very happy time in his life. Growing up in the theater circuit, being in the company of boozy and abusive 'theatricals', and being raised by a domineering mother and what I gather was a rather passive and emotionally unavailable father set the stage for a man who obviously felt deprived of the things that give us self-esteem and confidence. No one in his adult life could give him the things he should've received from his parents as a child, and he took out that frustration on those closest to him.
Also interesting were the glimpses of his fellow Goons (Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe) at various chapters in his life-in the church at his mother's funeral, in the crowd at the premiere of 'The Pink Panther'. They represented what he considered the happiest time of his life and they were a constant presence, flitting in an out of his life at key moments in the film, like the ghosts of Christmas Past.
Interesting also in how one decision, in this case his delusional infatuation with Sophia Loren, set in motion a series of dovetailing mistakes in his life, which took him further and further away from a relatively healthy existence. He had twenty years more to live and it turned out to be not enough time to turn things around.
Biopics are a devilish thing. Is as if the subject himself boycotted the operation from beyond the grave. The ultimate breach of privacy, isn't it? One feels like a voyeur, compelled and revolted at the same time. Goeffrey Rush's brilliant portrayal makes things even worse, I mean better, no I meant worse. A life of massive ups and downs for public consumption. Peter Sellers with a Cary Grant complex and a talent bigger than himself told in bits and pieces. To the ones who know about Sellers is a rather frustrating experience. Dr.Strangelove yes but not Lolita? The relationship with Blake Edwards deserves a movie of its own. The first massive heart attack was during Billy Wilder's "Kiss Me Stupid" but there is no mention of that. I know that to compress such a life without a structure within a two hour film it's an impossible task so what we're left with is a courageous attempt at tell us the sickly existence of one the greatest that ever was, a superlative performance by Goeffrey Rush, an astonishing Charlize Theron as Britt Eckland and very little else. I suppose that should be enough. Yes, it should, shouldn't it?
Stephen Hopkins' "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" is a monumental
film that undertook the difficult task of understanding the late Peter
Sellers. This unique actor, with such a complicated personality and who
lived such a turbulent life, comes alive in this HBO production based
on the book by Roger Lewis, with an adaptation by Christopher Markus.
Peter Sellers covered quite a lot of ground during his life. He was one of the best actors working in the England of the fifties, working in all those charming comedies that made him a star in his native land, but alas, was not well known in America because he had not yet been hired by Hollywood until his "discovery" by director Blake Edwards, who offered him the part of Inspector Clouseau after Peter Ustinov had turned down the role.
Prior to his worldwide recognition, Mr. Sellers had to work a lot in order to make ends meet. Life with his first wife Anne came to an abrupt end, when he discovered she had fallen for the interior decorator the couple had hired. Then, there is the fascinating episode with Sophia Loren, in which Mr. Sellers, in his mind, begins to think he is in love with her, only to be rebuked by Ms. Loren, a woman who was happily married to Carlo Ponti, and had no desire to become the second Mrs. Sellers.
The third woman in Mr. Sellers life is the beautiful, but much younger, Britt Ekland. From the start, one can figure this union was not to last. The age difference and the different cultures indicate these two were completely mismatched, as we get to watch in painful detail how the marriage disintegrates.
Mr. Hopkins makes his star, Geoffrey Rush, assume a lot of roles in addition of the main one, Peter Sellers. Geoffrey Rush shows his versatility in playing them with great style. His biggest achievement seems to be how he captures the essence of Peter Sellers, the man, and expose him to us in all his complexity.
The acting is superb. Emily Watson and Charlize Theron are seen as Anne and Britt, two women that left their mark in the life of Mr. Sellers. Both are excellent in the film. Miriam Margoyles plays Peg Sellers. John Lighgow is Blake Edwards, the man who elevated the actor to an international acclaim.
The film is a documentary, as well as a biopic about this man who gave a lot of joy to movie fans through his films. Geoffrey Rush has to be thanked for bringing him to life, as well as the director, Stephen Hopkins for giving us an understanding on what it was to be Peter Sellers.
The story begins with the Goons and ends just after his role in the
movie, Being There, thirty years later. A lot of the film features
recreations of famous moments in Seller's acting life, such as
appearing on "The Goons" or in "The Pink Panther". There are some
particularly hilarious insights into his development of the "Inspector
Clouseau" character, including an explanation of why he ended up hating
the character so much.
As such, it really only touches the surface of his life story, but it does give you an intense understanding of the character. A character which, in the style of Greek tragedy, had a major flaw. For me, the flaw was Seller's total lack of confidence, perhaps due to his appearance, which he appears constantly to have overcompensated for.
Curiously enough, since Sellers is shown portraying great emotions, I was never actually moved myself, except perhaps for the occasion when he is violent towards Britt Ekland and in a particularly galling moment with his children.
The movie reaches its crescendo with Sellers' performance in "Being There" in which it's suggested the reason why Sellers so wanted to play the man without a personality was because he, himself, had no personality.
A few people at my workplace commented they thought the movie was far too stylized. Although I can see their point, and I agree I was never really touched by the movie, I thought Geoffrey Rush's performance more than made up for this. Rush plays not only Sellers, but several other characters in a Sellers-like "Dr Strangelove" kind of way, and achieves all of it with gusto. I also really enjoyed the performance of Miriam Margoyles as Sellers' mother, Peg, with whom he seems to have enjoyed an intense, almost Oedipal relationship.
I thought Geoffrey Rush's performance was fantastic and makes the movie totally worth watching.
Peter Sellers is without question one the greatest comical geniuses of
not just the 20th Century, but of all time. Rush's portrayal of Sellers
is brilliant, a man whose true self was as transparent of one his many
character creations. For those seaking an "A&E Biography Channel" type
film will be sorely disappointed as was I. I wasn't prepared for this
alternative packaging of the material. I've seen it twice an am afraid
it will be a third viewing before I am truly able to grasp it's full
meaning. In as well crafted a movie can be, the camera work, set
decoration, period computer enhancements to better reflect the era, all
work together in producing a beautiful piece of cinematic eye candy. So
much so that is takes away from the story to be told. If trying to show
this tragic human bankruptcy, mortgaged in a quest for fame and
fortune, then the producers did a fine job.
One doesn't know whether to love or hate Sellers. It's not hard to understand why those close to the man disapprove of this film's tone. In a mad-cap dash that gallops all over the globe, in and out of the arms of the world's most beautiful women, we see a man consumed with lust and how the condition can drive men obscenely crazy. For a unique look at the life of Peter Sellers, one can't go wrong by watching this movie.
It might be impossible to capture every aspect of a man's life in a
two-hour film (A & E Biography frequently fails at this in the one-hour
format with the bigger stars) while giving everything its proper
weight. Peter Sellers' life is of such extraordinary dimensions that
"The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" even fails at being a scrapbook.
This is not necessarily the film's fault; the movie is mostly well-cast
(only John Lithgow as Blake Edwards didn't seem quite right) and
beautiful to look at, from the opening credits on.
The movie serves mostly as a sampler of Sellers' oddball behavior. Incidents are selected from his life (or slightly fabricated) to stand for the whole; one slap across Britt Ekland's face is meant to represent a lifetime of spousal abuse, but those unfamiliar with Sellers personal life will assume that he was merely temperamental off-camera. In fact, it doesn't even come close to the truth: Anne Sellers reported that Peter once fought her for 14 hours straight (she took a nap in between) and Britt says Peter pointed a loaded gun at her in Rome, only capitulating after she told him 'if you shoot me, you'll ruin your own career'. His mistreatment of his family is grossly underweighted compared to such trivial items as Sellers not quite getting the Texas accent required for the bomber role in Dr. Strangelove, then faking a broken leg to Kubrick so he wouldn't be able to climb the ladder to the elevated cockpit on the movie set and avoid having to admit his failure with the voice. Other things are not clearly explained; for instance, that the "clairvoyant" Maurice Woodruff was in the employ of the movie studios to get Sellers to do the pictures they wanted him to do, or the fantasy sequence after his seven consecutive heart attacks in LA, which relates to Sellers insisting that he had an out-of-body experience during he time his heart stopped. The asides to the camera by the Kubrick and Bill Sellers characters, and Sellers (in funny voices) indicate the director straining for depth; perhaps a documentary on Sellers' life would have been better.
On the plus side, Geoffrey Rush is nothing short of superb as Sellers. Everything about Sellers seems exactly right, including the voice, which is no small feat, since I don't think Sellers is all that doable. The voice certainly wouldn't be recognized as Sellers if done out of context, say, as a stage impersonation, yet it works, even though I can't really recall what Sellers' actual voice did sound like. (It was this lack of personality that made him such a great instrument for creating characters) Charlize Theron is also a dead ringer for Britt, though she's not given much to do.
This movie is mostly for Peter Sellers enthusiasts, like myself, who can pick out the obscure trivia (like the Texas accent sequence), explain it to other people and feel superior. The movie isn't bad, really; its extremely well-acted and well-crafted, but it fails miserably at explaining the man. Why was he the way he was? How does one reconcile his genius with his brutality and selfishness. Sellers is of such depth and magnitude that a two-hour movie just doesn't cut it. For a true picture of the man, I would recommend the Roger Lewis book on which the movie is "based", Ed Sikov's more sympathetic biography on Sellers, and Michael Sellers' memoir "P.S. I Love You". Sellers once described himself as being an "empty vessel", a body through which one of his great characters came to life. I feel the same way about this movie.
Geoffrey Rush does a great Peter Sellers impersonation, and Emily Watson shines as his wife, but otherwise the film is a little hard to recommend. The events all seem a bit fragmented, the frantic editing and camera-work subtract, and nothing much is gained by the over-exposure either. But the narration of the film is where I feel it really sinks, with awkward bits of talking to the audience and surreal sequences that appear like they have just been thrown in to make it more attractive to the eye. Also, viewers should be cautioned that the only thing that Stanley Tucci has in common with his character, Stanley Kubrick, is the same first name. Still, the film has some interesting elements, such as the insight into film-making and the performances, as well as some genuinely funny parts it is reasonably well made, but not brilliant.
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