A Mixed Film about a Great English Actor.
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
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
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..
meteor02 watch Young, Single & Angry movie
Being there : Peters sellers was a genius , nothing else to tell! The movie tells the adventures of mentaly disabeled person who reflects to us the crazyness of our modern society!.
lrubii watch Blame It On The Samba movie
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is the most profound, complex, disturbing, and, yes, funniest bio movie I've ever seen made for TV..
Champ2947 watch Superpower movie
Because it a hairy.
Too much reality is a dangerous thing ...
The good news is that, even though THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS
relies on the tired and true method of most filmed biographies, it
nonetheless makes several bold attempts to break free of the
this-happened-that-happened format, striving to be inventive and daring
in the way the story unfolds. The bad news about the film is that it
falls into the same predictable trap that befalls most motion pictures
that examine the lives of well admired people: it ends up showing the
subject, in this case a comic genius, to be a real jerk off the screen.
Thus, you have the paradox of making a film that will mostly be of
interest to fans of Sellers and who, therefore, probably won't really
want to see his memory besmirched.
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS, though stuck with a mundane title,
is certainly a well made film especially by TV standards. The film
travels Sellers' path, more or less, chronologically marking each
professional and private milestone with a scene or two of appropriate
melodrama. However, the film cleverly steps into and out of reality at
odd intervals to draw parallels between Sellers' largely successful
career as a film star, while at the same time using little dramatic
tricks to comment on various less successful aspects of his sometimes
turbulent private life.
Showing a surprising versatility, Geoffrey Rush embodies Sellers, going
beyond mere impersonation. He admirably meets the challenge of not only
playing Peter Sellers both at various ages and as many of his most
famous characters (Clouseau, Strangelove, Chance the gardener, etc.)
but also steps into the characters played by the other actors. In a
move that could have been no more than an embarrassing gimmick, the
film allows Rush to briefly take over the other actors' roles and
provide a secondary commentary on what is unfolding in the basic drama.
The funhouse effect of watching, for instance, an actor (Rush) playing
an actor (Sellers) playing an actor (John Lithgow) playing a character
based on a real person (director Blake Edwards) is amazing, both in the
way it propels the narrative and in how neatly Rush pulls the stunt
off. Rush's performance, Stephen Hopkin's direction and the cleverly
conceived script make the hall of mirrors trickery work as both a
commentary on Sellers' own ability to play multiple roles in his films
and also suggests that the way the people in Sellers' life saw him may
have differed greatly from how Sellers thought he was being seen.
In much the same way that BEING JOHN MALKOVICH gave us a glimpse of a
all-Malkovich world, we get an egocentric vision of Sellers' world.
Generally, biopics have but one voice, that of the god-like filmmaker.
PETER SELLERS like the actor himself, seems compelled to use many
voices, most of them belonging to Sellers. Coming after scenes in which
Sellers behaves rather badly, these character transformations allow
Sellers to explain or excuse his behavior and use his talent to impose
his self-absorbed personality on others.
Stylistically, the film is a success, as it also evolves visually, so
that the tone and the style of scenes mimic the prevailing cinematic
fashion of each subsequent era and each subsequent movie in Sellers'
filmography. But it is as history that the film gets shaky. There are,
for instance, inconsistencies: Scenes from several Sellers' films like
DR. STRANGELOVE and BEING THERE are nicely recreated right down to the
set design, yet the recreated scene from CASINO ROYALE bears no
resemblance to any moment in the final film. Also, much is made of
Sellers being picked to star in STRANGELOVE for Stanley Kubrick, but
there is no mention of the fact he had already starred in Kubrick's
extremely controversial LOLITA two years before. Nitpicky little
things, maybe; but things that make you question the veracity of the
film as whole.
Thus, PETER SELLERS faces the same problem that plagues all filmed
biographies; how to squeeze thirty years of a man's life into two hours
of celluloid. Facts unavoidably get omitted, relationships condensed
and complex situations simplified. That is why the printed page and not
the silver screen is the proper place for a good biography. Yet,
Hollywood perseveres and foolishly aims for quantity over quality in
trying to encapsulate a human life into a moving photo album. The
result is less a story than a reel of highlights; a collection of
moments chosen not so much because they accurately define an
individual, but because they are particularly controversial, cruel,
frightening or just plain weird. The atypical gets highlighted over the
typical. With Peter Sellers, we have seen him at his best, on screen
and in character; the film attempts to show him mostly at his worst; as
a distant father, an unfaithful husband, a temperamental unprofessional
celebrity and perhaps even as a manic-depressive.
Does knowing that Peter Sellers had a nasty temper and was prone to
childish, petty temper tantrums really enhance our appreciation of his
work? Will being exposed to his private demons make Clouseau funnier or
Strangelove creepier or Chance more whimsical? I don't think so.
Shakespeare once wrote that "the evil men do live after them, the good
is often interred with their bones." Had he lived today, he might have
added "unless you happen to be a celebrity." Peter Sellers left a
legacy of vivid, oddball characters and a handful of remarkably
unforgettable movies. All else is interesting, but unimportant
backstory. Thus, ultimately, Sellers will get the last laugh, something
this film seems to want to deny him..