The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004) Poster

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Rush is mind-blowing... but which Rush?
pyrocitor20 July 2005
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 him justice.

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.

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Life imitating art imitating life imitating art imitating life
Rogue-326 December 2004
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, Britt Ekland.

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."
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The Eyes Had It
rsyung8 December 2004
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 eyes…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 performances.

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.
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Rush is brilliant but it's a tough movie.
Tim Johnson29 August 2004
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.
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Lows and Lowers among Highs and Highers
bethlambert11730 August 2005
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?
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A complex life
jotix1003 October 2005
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.
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I thought Geoffrey Rush's performance was fantastic and makes the movie totally worth watching.
James O'Brien6 January 2005
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.
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Memorable Bio Thanks To Rush, Margoyles
ccthemovieman-120 March 2007
I didn't expect this biography to be so interesting but, then, I didn't know a lot about Peter Sellers' private life except for his marriage to Swedish beauty Britt Ekland. One thing that made this more interesting to me was that I grew up in Sellers' era in the '50s through '70s and was familiar with all his films.

Sellers obviously led a strange life or they wouldn't have made a movie about it. I expected what I got: a look at a great film comedian but also a disturbed person underneath the comic image, one that wasn't so funny. Modern films (those since the late '60s) seem to almost sadistically delight in showing a famous person's bad points, more than his or her good. Thus, for many people, this probably wasn't a pleasant film to watch. However, I didn't mind because I found Geoffrey Rush's acting so good, his portrayal of Sellers so credible and fascinating, that I could put up with some of the not-so-much fun to watch scenes. I don't think the latter was overemphasized, anyway.

Watching this film, I thought what a tragic figure was Sellers' mother "Peg," played memorably by Miriam Margolyes. This actress gets almost no billing because she's isn't well- known and that's a pity because she is very good in here. In fact, she's the second "star" of this film. After that comes Charlize Theron as the aforementioned Ekland, Emily Watson as Sellers' first wife "Anne;" John Lithgow as "Blake Edwards," Stanley Tucci as "Stanley Kubrick," and other fine actors.

All the actors were excellent but this is still Rush's film. He dominates almost every scene, reminding me of his first big hit, "Shine."

Overall, this is an interesting biography. Kudos to director Stephen Hopkins for a job well done, too.
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Interesting film of a deeply disturbed, unpleasant person
ANeary17 October 2005
I never thought I'd find myself feeling sorry for Britt Ekland: this film of Peter Sellers' life and career achieved that. One must assume that many of the details are based in truth - his behaviour to his children in particular was awful.

There is no doubt that Sellers was an amazing talent, and troubled as so many are (Tony Hancock, for instance) - the toll that took on those closest to him must have been great.

But to the film: it's worth seeing for the extraordinary performance from Geoffrey Rush, uncannily portraying Sellers. There is fine support, in particular from John Lithgow as Blake Edwards, Miriam Margoyles as Sellers' mother, and Charlize Theron's Ekland.
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Not worthy of its great subject
rcraig6216 June 2005
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.
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My brief review of the film
sol-30 May 2005
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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I wanted to like this film, but
Joseph Stephens16 December 2004
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.
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Spoilers? Warning: You'll never laugh at a Sellers movie again
arieliondotcom3 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Watching this movie is like catching your parents having sex. It's horrifying and fascinating at the same time. The movie plays right into the image of Sellers that Blake Edwards has inferred (that the beloved comedian was mentally ill) in interviews and magnifies it 100 times. I don't know how they could have found out about most of these incidents if the incidents were true and how they could avoid lawsuits by the Sellers estate if they were not. But he whole thing is sad because you are reminded of the movies you grew up loving Sellers/Clousseau in and then have that treasured picture turned over to see obscenities scrawled on the back, so to speak. Right from the start when it's inferred that Sellers' mother was a psycho (aren't they all) stage mother and that there was some kind of sicko relationship between them (you half expect them to show Sellars in a wig and rocking chair as in the movie Psycho at some point) you are on your way down a dark, depressing road with no picture of the redeeming qualities of the man at all. I don't know why there was a need to depict this man in this way and rob those of us who have seen it of the legacy of laughter he left us, but if you watch it I think you'll agree that you'll never be able to laugh at a Sellers movie again. I only wish I could say this movie was a bomb-buh. (Did you say bomb-buh?) but it's just well enough acted to make it memorable, unfortunately.
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Difficult to watch
snorkmaiden7 May 2005
I am both a fan of the talents of Geoffrey Rush and of Peter Sellers, but I am afraid that I found this film extremely difficult to watch.

Firstly, the film depicts Sellers as a man without empathy, compassion, affection or indeed any humanity. Excepting perhaps the first moments of the film when he is looking after his baby daughter, he cares for no-one except himself. This may or may not be the case, but it means that ultimately you just don't care about him. You don't care that he ends up lonely and alone. Once I started to feel this about him, I just found it hard going.

Secondly, it was a bit too smarty pants for me, the way he kept merging into the characters of his family. I wondered what the point of that was, it just annoyed me.

Did Rush do a good job? It's a hard call. In the end I felt he was impersonating someone impersonating others. He couldn't capture the inner Sellers, because there was none. According to the film, at least.

In some ways, mainly this film disturbed me, because I do love Sellers' work and perhaps I don't want to think of him as an awful, empty, shallow shambles of a person.
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A Mixed Film about a Great English Actor.
DesbUK28 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
After so many biopics about the lives of American show biz legends (Beyond The Sea, De-Lovely, Ray), it's refreshing to see the life of an English entertainer on screen. But this HBO/BBC co-production is a mixed bag. It's fascinating to compare this film to Terry Johnson's NOT ONLY BUT ALWAYS, a TV movie for Britain's Channel Four which aired in December 2004. That dealt with the lives of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, was also set in the 60s and 70s and even has an actor playing Blake Edwards! On balance, I'd say the Channel 4 movie was the better of the two for being the less pretentious and dramatically better sustained.

In 'The Life and Death of Peter Sellers', the acting is splendid. Geoffrey Rush gives the performance of his career as Sellers. Aided by some great make-up work, in the 1970s sequences he looks spookily like the real Sellers. Emily Watson and Miriam Margolyes are both convincing in the roles of first wife and mother. Charlize Theron fares less well in the under-written role of Britt Ekland (she doesn't really have much dialogue).

The other strength is Norman Garwood's production design which fully captures the period of the drab post-war London of the 1950s through to the brightly-coloured affluence of the Swinging Sixties. He even recreates Ken Adam's war room from DR STRANGELOVE (apparently, according to the DVD commentary, on the same Shepperton Studios sound stage where the real DR STRANGELOVE was filmed).

It also has one of the best title sequences of any movie I've seen: an animated sequence full of cartoon Sellerses, giving way to a recreation of a recording of the Goon show in the 1950s.

However, the fatal flaw is the screenplay by Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeeley. They use a cumbersome device of having Rush also play the other characters in the movie (his mother, his dad, Anne Sellers, Stanley Kubrick, Blake Edwards) off set. The intention is to create the impression of a life of Peter Sellers done in the style of a Peter Sellers film with him playing all the main parts. In the deleted scenes section of the DVD there's even more sequences of him playing his mother again, the doctor who saves his life, a Hollywood producer and movie executive, and the Stephen Fry character, Maurice Woodruff. The effect is merely to alienate the audience from the story rather than involve them. They also omit his friendship with Spike Milligan, which was important in Sellers life.

The final section of the movie seems patchy and not very interesting and the whole thing just winds down to Sellers standing alone in the snow. It gives the impression of Sellers being all alone in his final years. It is best watched on DVD where you access key deleted scenes of Sellers fourth marriage to Lynn Frederick at the time. I'm not sure why they were cut from the finished movie.
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A Man Who Could Not Find Himself
theowinthrop27 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Many years ago I read a biography about Peter Sellers - whom at that time I thought of as one of the greatest comic actors in the world. Sellers was still alive at the time, but the book was quite candid. It mentioned his close relationship with his mother (sort of resembling, if not quite, Minnie Marx and her sons). Among personal historic details I found he was related to some early English pugilist (either "Dutch Sam", inventor or the uppercut, or Daniel Mendoza). I also found a story that has haunted my thoughts about Sellers ever since. The author of the book pointed out that Sellers' vast array of different characters from THE GOON SHOW to the British and then Hollywood films were so diverse in character as to leave little room for his own personality - and that the comedian actually was at a loss for his understanding who he was or where he came from. In fact, he was frequently returning to areas that he used to live in, and asking current residents for permission to visit their apartments or homes to see if it would stir up any smidge of memory of who or what he was.

Peter Sellers is one of those actors who deserved getting the Academy Award several times (most notably for either DR. STRANGELOVE or for BEING THERE) yet never did. The reason, probably, was that he was a highly difficult actor for directors to work with (as this film shows when he is working with Blake Edwards (John Lithgow) or with Stanley Kubrick (Stanley Tucci)). He was also likely to have problems with co-stars.

One that is not gone into in this film, but would have been curious to see, was his problems on the set of CASINO ROYALE with Orson Welles. Sellers had a problem with Welles because Sellers disliked obese people, and he openly commented on Welles' gargantuan size. The result was that in that critical scene in that film (a bomb despite this) instead of having some type of common sequences where the actors could react to each other's performances, Sellers and Welles were shot separately, with Welles purposely adding his own abilities as a magician in performing tricks for the gambling crowd that Ian Fleming did not include in his novel or in his conception of Le Chiffre (Welles' role).

The film follows the life of the star from his working class background to success with Harry Seccombe and Spike Milligan (Steve Pemberton and Edward Tudor-Pole) to his first marriage and it's collapse in the wake of a romance with Sophia Loren (Sonia Aquino) to his string of film successes from THE LADYKILLERS and I'M ALL RIGHT JACK to THE PINK PANTHER and STRANGELOVE. It notes the gradual control his life lost, to both his job and perfectionism (see the scene where Rush shaves himself on the airplane going to Rome, and becomes Inspector Jasques Clouseau to the annoyance of a stewardess). He also becomes too dependent on the advice of a questionable clairvoyant (Stephen Fry as Maurice Woodruff*). Woodruff does advise him that his fate is linked to a woman with the initials "B.E.", which does lead to his second marriage to Britt Eckland (Charlize Theron), which actually seemed quite romantic and promising, but collapses with the death of Sellers' mother. The final decade of his career, with increasingly rotten film choices, and unwanted returns to his career part of Clouseau (for the money, he admits) ends with his last artistic triumph as "Chance the Gardener" in BEING THERE.

Rush does very nicely with the lead role, recapturing scenes from many of Sellers' films. The cast is also good, with some of the characters (Lithgow, Tucci, Miriam Margolyes as his mother Peg) commenting on his personality flaws and good points. In the end we realize he was a genius at recreating paper parts into living and breathing personalities, but never was able to get a satisfied feeling for his own - and had a lousy personal life as a result. But why this happened is impossible to pinpoint. His contemporary Alec Guinness was similarly able to make hundreds of roles spring to life, and was equally a perfectionist in getting down a part - but Guinness was able to find a personal peace of mind in Roman Catholicism, and his home life seemed stable. Sellers could only turn to charlatans like Woodruff for facing into the abyss of the future.

(*Years ago I watched several shows (on Channel 5 in New York in the late 1960s or early 1970s) with Woodruff doing his seer-like spiel for a live audience. Sellers once showed up on the show, although he joked around with Woodruff.)
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Terrific portrayal of Peter Sellers rise to fame. Geoffrey Rush shines.
Linda (lindaz)10 September 2005
I couldn't imagine a more perfect actor to play this part. Nothing more can be said about that. When you see the film, you'll know.

Someone commented here on IMDb that the movie left them feeling empty, but I didn't experience this in the least. But my feeling was that the acting & everything else was so well done that I felt myself wishing there could be a sequel.

The story was as I would have imagined. Anyone with the genius talent of Sellers had to have a crazy side. I watched this movie with my 15 year old son and it brought out perfectly how letting a kid feel he's the center of the universe is the worst way to raise them. It was plain that Sellers mother was his undoing as well as his making. That's a whole other subject in itself. Sellers arrested mental and emotional growth due to his mother's molly-coddling, disastrously affected everything in his life and the lives of everyone involved with him.

But then there's this side bit. This sad undertone where he has this dream to do something more meaningful, not just get a big laugh, but to do something HE felt was meaningful, not what everyone ELSE wanted from him. A longing. It was as if he couldn't lead his own life. He couldn't be himself because that wasn't what anyone wanted. Everyone demanded this genius crazy side which began to eat at him. Eventually his dream came true and he could do the film "Being There" which could very well be a parallel story of the way he saw himself. A simple person with a talent for making others feel good, but totally unrelated to what each is actually intending.

This, to me, is a film I will want to see more than once. Seven stars.
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Horrible little man played wonderfully by Geoffrey Rush
siderite23 July 2005
Well, how do you rate a biographical movie? I am really not a Peter Sellers buf so I couldn't tell how accurate the movie was. Knowing how these kind of movies are made I am sure it is full of little overdramatisations :) The only measure of quality is the performance of the lead actor and I think Geoffrey Rush did a fabulous job. He talked, looked and moved like Peter Sellers.

However, I couldn't watch more than 30 minutes of the film. The movie portrays a horrible little man, egocentric to the point of disbelief, abusing his wives and children and having no real remorse. While the movie is well done and the acting superb, I couldn't stand the idea of another hour and a half of watching the same type of behavior, so I missed on John Lithgow, Stanley Tucci and other great actors in the cast.
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powerful, if difficult, performance
TheNorthernMonkee2 October 2004
Warning: Spoilers

It is sometimes said that a man's life should be judged purely on his actions. In "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" we are shown one version of the life of Sellers and what he meant to others. Playing Sellers, Geoffrey Rush is an almost uncanny likeness of the star, performing not just as Sellers or Sellers' most famous roles, but also occasionally as the associates in the comedian's life. The performance is generally superb, worthy of an Oscar nomination (which it won't get as a result of the actions of HBO), but the film itself is hard work to watch and at times is perhaps too harrowing.

Covering his time on the Goonies radio programme through to his eventual death, the film covers all aspects of Sellers life. It shows his almost obsessive love for his mother who teaches him to be selfish and greedy. It covers the childish behaviour witnessed by his family and friends. Most importantly, it also covers the story of his love for first wife Anne (Emily Watson), Sophia Loren (Sonia Aquino) and the beautiful Britt Ekland (Charlize Theron).

"The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" is more of an acting masterclass than anything. Featuring superb performances by Rush, Watson, Theron and others, it is perhaps the finest example of acting that you will see all year.

The problem with this film however, if it can be considered a problem, is that it is incredibly depressing. With a mixed message, this film sends a strong message that we should feel a strong sense of pity for Sellers. This comic genius lived a painful life with a lack of satisfaction and at times, zero amounts of confidence. Living without a personality of his own, Sellers is portrayed as only being himself, ironically, when he is playing a role on film. The problem with this cinematic experience however, is that it is implied far too often that Sellers' problems are all of his own doing. Whether this is true or not, by giving us a pitiful Sellers who is also obsessive, selfish and rude, we come out of the experience with mixed emotions. Wanting to pity the comic, we simultaneously find it impossible to feel even the slightest feeling for him. As a result, Roger Lewis' story leaves us feeling angry at ourselves. We WANT to feel a sense of pity and loss for Sellers and we want to cry our eyes out. This remains impossible however because we also want to slap him round the face and tell him to grow up. We feel angry not because Sellers is a character to pity, but because he really isn't.

All in all, "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" is ridiculously harrowing. With a portrayal of Sellers as this emotionally crippled man with a deep depression and a sense of absence, the man is shown to be unlikeable. In the role of Sellers, Rush gives perhaps the best performance he has ever done. When he features as Sellers' most famous characters, he genuinely is superb and it's impossible to tell the difference between the two. At the same time, Watson and Theron are also brilliant as the two main loves in the life of the comedian. "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" is one of those films, that you want everyone to watch, yet simultaneously want to have never been made. With wonderful acting and a superb, if difficult, story, the film is a magnificent piece that everyone should see. At the same time though, I wish this film had never been made because it shows us what went on behind the camera. With some perfect comedy performances, the real Peter Sellers was a comedy legend. If he was anything like he was presented in this film though, by showing everyone who he really was, the writer has done something similar to a magician revealing how he did his tricks. Sellers should be remembered for his comedy, and by making this film I worry that the legend could be damaged.

If you want to remember Sellers for his films, don't watch this film. If you wish to know one version of what the "real" Sellers was like however, or even just want to watch a superb acting performance by Rush, get a copy of this feature.
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Strange Movie about a Strange Man
aramis-112-80488022 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
How good was Peter Sellers? When I was an adolescent I saw a commercial for the upcoming showing of "A Shot in the Dark" (curiously, the best of the Pink Panther movies). It showed clips of Elke Sommer running around "nude" (what passed for "nude" in them days. I tuned in for Elke Sommer and quickly became obsessed with the weird character of Inspector Clouseau as limned by Peter Sellers.

I became a Sellers nut, watching all his movies, collecting "Goon Show" tapes as they came on the market. But I wondered, who was this man, who had so inhabit these bizarre characters? So when THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS came out I devoured it from cover to cover.

The biography THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS was a peculiar book that drew a shocking conclusion: that Peter Sellers was evil. Fortunately, Sellers is not portrayed as evil in the movie. But it does seem that Sellers, who yearned to be a leading-man type, was not the leading man even in his own life. He was a character role.

The movie is hardly for Sellers neophytes. Anyone unfamiliar with Sellers' films or characters -- particularly in his early British classics like "The Ladykillers" or "Carlton-Browne of the F.O."-- might be confused by the images this flick focuses on. Yet anyone more intimately familiar with Sellers life and films might be put off by the whole.

The movie starts at a point the real Sellers (probably peering over his shoulder through a fog of nostalgia) thought of as his happiest time, making the BBC-radio "Goon Show" (still repeated, still one of the funniest shows on the air). It ends with a remake (and an added bit of symbolism) of his last scene of the movie "Being There." Sandwiched in between are snippets of Sellers' selfishness and the unpleasantness he imposed on others.

Whether the book or the film capture the real Sellers will never be known. Sellers famous said there was no real him -- on his "Muppet Show" appearance he said he had his "me" surgically removed. This is arrant nonsense. Sellers was all about himself. He lived a selfish life and died without being surrounded by friends and family. Apparently there was a "real" Sellers but he never acknowledged it because that person was not very nice (hilariously yet poignantly summed in this film by Sellers assuring his little daughter he still loved her, "Just not as much as I love Sophia Loren" (Loren to this day admits to an affair and I think, like the book and movie has it, it was "all in the mind."

The most important question for this movie is, how does Geoffrey Rush come across as Sellers? In some scenes, Rush bears an almost frightening resemblance to pictures of the real Sellers. And he is uncannily able to recreate some of Sellers' film performances. Personally, I would like to have seen more time spent on Sellers' films (particularly "Casino Royale," which the book claims Sellers destroyed, and which ultimately, in a nice bit of karma, almost destroyed Sellers' career).

In the end, however, while a brilliant actor like Rush may imitate Sellers' creations to an alarming degree, and while Rush is himself hilarious in some of his own parts, he cannot duplicate the comedic genius that was Sellers on film. He can look eerily like Sellers but he's never particularly funny in Sellers' roles.

Sellers might well have been the miserable git described in the book and the movie, though I think both book and movie are at fault for psychoanalyzing a dead person. That doesn't mean they are wrong (though original "Goon" Michael Bentine says a lot that has been said about Sellers is nonsense, while former wife and bombshell Britt Eckland says the movie doesn't go far enough! Take your pick.) Though Sellers disingenuously protested his own lack of a genuine persona, and though a person is not merely a series of syndromes that can be so blithely deconstructed, Sellers might well be the epitome of the old joke about television: that it brings into your living room people you wouldn't have in your house.

What made Sellers was not so much his ability to "inhabit" his characters as to make them,when he was at his best, incredibly funny. And in this, Rush, and the movie fails. Like Sellers, Rush beautifully "inhabits" his characters. But in this movie his character is the real Sellers, the man who was able to make miserable everyone he came into contact with personally. Rush is unable to go the next step and show how Sellers was able to take a little makeup and maybe a mustache and bring joy to millions who -- fortunately -- would never get to meet him personally.

But as for a surfer version of Sellers' life, the movie is probably as good as it will ever get as far as bio-pics. Instead of giving actual "Goon" scrips they show anarchy on the "Goon" stage. Instead of showing Sellers' actual proposal to Britt, they have Ray Ellington's son singing "You Make Me Fell So Young" in a wacky and (dare I say?) "Goonish" sequence. Sellers in the movie doesn't come off as half as destructive as (if hearsay is to be believed) he actually was; but it also fails to show why he was loved--because when he was on screen in his best roles (which curiously end about the time of "The Pink Panther") he was the best slapstick artist since the silent era and incredibly funny.

Also bad: Nigel Havers has a bit part as David Niven, with nearly nothing to do! Apparently Havers has the rights to one of Nivens' memoirs. Let us hope he is allowed to do it. What a waste of a perfectly good actor.
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Not my favourite biopic
robca22 June 2005
When the main character actually turns to the screen and tells you their deepest secret (ie. Sellers was an empty vessel for his characters to inhabit, having no personality of his own) what are we as an audience left to discover? Nothing I guess. The filmmaker has kindly done all the work for us, how thoughtful. As Hank Chinaski said "it's the thing I hate the most, obviousness..." Come on, give the audience some credit, where's the subtlety? Sellers is a great subject, he deserved better than this. For Sellers fans it's a bit of a revelation to see the absolutely creepy relationship he had with his mother (if it's true). yech.
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Literally Being There.
tfrizzell6 December 2004
Uneven biography of the famed British actor (Geoffrey Rush in the titled role) who died way too early in life of a massive heart attack. The film follows Sellers from his days on BBC radio in the early-1950s to his last moments in the spotlight with "Being There" in the late-1970s. Over those years he has run-ins with famous directors (the cryptic Stanley Kubrick, played by Stanley Tucci, and polar opposite Blake Edwards, played by John Lithgow) as he struggles with his work and where his career is actually heading. The women in his life (played by Emily Watson and Charlize Theron) and his elderly parents (Miriam Margolyes and Peter Vaughan) are also along for Sellers' dizzying downfall. Drug abuse, poor money decisions, questionable career choices, indifference with women and disregard for his children are all given significant glimpses. Being a huge Peter Sellers fan, I found this a real exercise to sit through. The dark side of Sellers' life is not as interesting as the filmmakers wanted it to be. The cinematic execution of this picture is sickening as it goes for that psycho-styled 1960s European trash look with new-age visual techniques. Although ambitious, I found the style to be a huge minus. Rush, honestly doing work on par with "Shine", gets wasted due to the film's tone, the ho-hum screenplay and an excellent cast that under-achieves (Theron and Lithgow in particular). Watch a Peter Sellers movie marathon instead. 2.5 stars out of 5.
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Rambling and unfocused
Expalphalog6 December 2004
Mr Rush was phenomenal in this film. He managed to not only convincingly play Peter Sellers, but also some of Sellers' most memorable roles. I cannot stress enough how amazing Geoffrey Rush was in this film, and it is a veritable crime against humanity that HBO would disqualify him for the Oscar he would most likely win.

However, even Rush's stellar performance could not save this movie. The film focuses entirely on Sellers' faults and makes great strides to villainize him. The filmmaker seems to want you to view Sellers as a watered-down Hitler or a tame Charles Manson. Yet the object of the film seems to be a vain attempt to invoke the audiences sympathy for the man. How can you spend two hours showing me that a man is pure evil and then expect me to sympathize with him?

The film is rambling and unfocused, coming across as more of a series of unconnected anecdotes than a true biographical story. Where is Sellers' comedic genius? Where is the kind and sensitive man that we've read about in numerous interviews? What's the point?
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Rush fans, see. Sellers fans, avoid.
Bastique-36 December 2004
The Roomie and I sat down for a nice evening of HBO Sunday night television. Unexpectedly, the HBO current drama, The Wire, wasn't on in order that HBO could feature its movie, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.

I must say, I expected a bit more from the movie, hoping it would be a bit more entertaining. HBO's preview certainly made it look as if it would be more upbeat. Geoffrey Rush commands a superb performance of the famous actor, his own characters and the brief cutaway scenes wherein Rush portrays various other characters in the movie notwithstanding. But the movie, which I wouldn't even classify as dark comedy, was ultimately depressing.

Peter Sellers is presented as a childlike and selfish man with no personality of his own who faced anything serious in his life by retreating into characters. The writers show him as a megalomaniac, who only returns to Blake Edwards' Pink Panther films after he has a series of cinematic failures and is basically broke.

Academy award winning actress Charlize Theron is the opposite of Aileen Wournos, portraying Sellers second wife and 60s starlet, Britt Eckland. Her Swedish 'accent' is unconvincing. English character actress Miriam Margolyes does a wonderful job as Peg Sellers, the overbearing mother who created the monster of self and arrogance that Peter Sellers apparently became. The movie also features John Lithgow, playing John Lithgow as Blake Edwards (Geoffrey Rush does a better job at Edwards in a brief cutaway scene), and a decent performance by Stanley Tucci as Stanley Kubrick.

Emily Watson, best known for her Oscar-nominated role in Hilary and Jackie, also has an outstanding performance as Anne Sellers, Peter's first wife and source of emotional support, long after their divorce.

Ultimately, I would not be surprised if Sellers' children or any of his wives had a strong hand in the making of this film, given the sympathetic portrayal of both Anne Sellers and Britt Eckland as well as Anne's children, Michael and Sarah. Although in general, the acting provided award-winning performances, notably by Rush, this movie should be included in a long line of bitter, posthumous bio-epics that began with Mommie Dearest.

If you are a great fan of Geoffrey Rush, and want to watch one of the performances of his life, see The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. If you are, like I am, a huge fan of Peter Sellers' life work, then rent any one of his many motion pictures, but avoid this movie at all cost.
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has moments of greatness, but is not great
h6712 August 2005
this film has a couple of remarkable strengths, especially the actors, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson and some others. Together with good cinematography they manage to produce enchanting moments and in line with the film's overall intentions, it offers its own comments: to this film, like to Peter Sellers, there is a magnetic side. The theme in itself is also worthwhile: the tyranny of possibility, how being a brilliant actor means giving up being a distinct person because you can be so much. Some of the best moments are watching Rush acting Sellers acting in films.

Yet ultimately the film does not hold together. Some of the connections are overwrought, especially when Rush steps into Sellers playing a surprise appearance as his own mother, clearly pronouncing the theme of the genius being condemned to aloofness. Here the movie becomes as clichéd as a novel by Balzac. After such scenes you lose faith, and it is difficult to turn back onto the film.

A couple of decisions really damaged the film. The songs seem to have been chosen by an intern. They are meant to complement the film, but effectively sabotage crucial scenes, because they are entirely obvious, over-rehearsing an already existing theme.

Charlize Theron is not convincing as Brit Eklund, although she does her best.

Lastly, when Rush acts out the unpleasant side of Sellers, he overdoes it. Yes, Sellers may have been that way but a good representation should have been a little more withdrawn and subtle. This would have made the film much stronger.

On balance, it is a good film and worth watching but not what it could have been.
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