LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS, THE: DVD
British comedian Peter Sellers (Geoffrey Rush) was one of The Goons on BBC Radio , a long running madcap series of the 60s. Pushed along by his loving but overbearing mother Peg (Miriam Margolyes), Sellers forces his way into a screen career. This is launched by the unlikely success of his first supporting role in The Pink Panther, directed by Blake Edwards (John Lithgow) who went on to direct Sellers in six more films, in a turbulent relationship that see-sawed between love and hate. His marriage to Anne (Emily Watson) was also destined to fail, as were the other three, including his second to the celebrated Britt Ekland (Charlize Theron). Although he loved pretty women, Sellers could never get a handle on a relationship, which is not surprising since he never got a handle on himself, as he frequently admitted. Whether he was 'an empty vessel' welcoming other characters as required, or a seriously complicated man with border line personality disorders, no-one can say for sure. But he was unique - and never boring. He died in 1980 at 54.
Review by Louise Keller:
Absorbing and entertaining, yet intensely revealing, The Life And Death of Peter Sellers thrusts us headfirst into the highly complex life of the iconic movie star, comic actor, husband, father and son. In a brilliant portrayal by Geoffrey Rush, we are given a glimpse of the absurd, extravagant, surreal, lonely, tragic life of a comic genius. We glean an insight into Sellers' obsessive relationship with his mother, his extravagances, the excesses and irrational behaviour as he skyrockets to movie superstar.
Often the scenes from Sellers' real life are more bizarre than any from his films. Inhabiting the characters he creates, or becoming possessed by his characters; we watch as he creates his famous bumbling Inspector Clouseau (conceived in a plane as he flies to the set). He is a paradox: a director's nightmare, but endearing, amusing, charming.
In their first screenplay for film, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely's intelligent script (from a book by Roger Lewis) focuses on the emotional pivots that make up the man. And director Stephen Hopkins guides us through the highs and lows with great affection, allowing us to not only soar to the dizzy heights of elation, but to also grasp an understanding of the dark demons that possess him. The journey is punctuated with music, using such tunes as Hey Big Spender and Goodness Gracious Me to great effect.
There are no impersonations, but Rush (with wonderful make-up, wigs, prosthetics and costumes) and the impeccable cast manage to remind us of the people concerned. There are moments, I felt, when Rush actually becomes Peter Sellers. It's a wildly demanding role, involving over 40 voices and covering 30 years of emotional havoc and Rush shines brightly - from funny and charming to sulking and irrational. The instance when Rush is physically transformed to portray his mother (and later, director Blake Edwards) is an effective tool to allow Sellers to voice what we already perceive - his guilt and anguish.
The challenge of casting well-known personalities such as Blake Edwards, Stanley Kubrick and Britt Ekland are well and truly met. I especially enjoyed John Lithgow's Blake 'I'm calling the shots' Edwards, while Emily Watson generates compassion as the ever-patient first wife Anne, and Charlize Theron's glamorous, ditzy Swedish bombshell is irresistible. Then there's Stephen Fry's calculating fortune-teller to the stars who makes predictions ('you like pretty ladies') and voluptuous Sonia Aquino as the one and only Sophia Loren. As Peg Sellers, Miriam Margolyes brings pathos as Sellers' ambitious, manipulative mother, who becomes obsessed by Sellers' celebrity ('Why are you making the same mistake again', she asks as he is about to get married a second time. 'Because they won't let me marry you,' he smiles).
A splendid near-final scene showing Sellers hallucinating through the bright, circular light of the operating theatre, when all his characters surround him. We are never sure whether they are taunting him, comforting him, keeping him company or just watching him. But we do know that Sellers is a lonely man who does not handle choices well. The Life And Death of Peter Sellers is well worth seeing - on every count. Not the least being as an insightful homage to an artist like no other.
The DVD offers even more with two audio commentaries (one with Geoffrey Rush and director Stephen Hopkins, the other with the writers), eight deleted scenes and a well produced 'making of' featurette. Sometimes he was such an insecure person, he could be dangerous to people around him, says Hopkins. Structured in sections that look at his past, his rise and his movies, there are interviews with all of the actors including Rush, Theron, Fry and Watson. Watching the make-up artists transform Rush into the many guises of Sellers reminds us what an exceptional performance this is.
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LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS, THE: DVD (M)
CAST: Geoffrey Rush, Charlize Theron, Emily Watson, John Lithgow, Miriam Margolyes, Peter Vaughan, Sonia Aquino, Stanley Tucci, Stephen Fry, Nigel Havers, Edward Tudor-Pole
PRODUCER: Simon Bosanquet
DIRECTOR: Stephen Hopkins
SCRIPT: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (book by Roger Lewis)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Levy ACS, ASC
EDITOR: John Smith
MUSIC: Richard Hartley
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Norman Garwood
RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentaries, making of feature, deleted scenes
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video
DVD RELEASE: April 13, 2005