Rush for Sellers movie

news: Rush for Sellers movie

HAVING to suffer extreme inner demons is often the price paid for the talent to entertain. John Cleese is a classic example – the once hysterical comedian exorcised all his demons and is now entirely unfunny. Lucky for us, Peter Sellers got madder and paid for his talent more than most.

It’s impossible to imagine anyone doing a better job of playing the late British comic actor than Geoffrey Rush; and it’s not Rush’s fault that, while The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is a real corker, the one thing that’s missing is the ‘Sellers factor’ – his singular ability to be absolutely hilarious.

Keen to be reminded of this strange man’s extraordinary career, I welcomed the portrayal, however, tears of near-delirium were not running down my cheeks as they were on my first ever viewing of A Shot in the Dark (1964).

Rush clearly had lots of fun making this film, recreating some of Sellers’ most famous characters from the labour leader in I’m All Right, Jack to Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films. There are times in the movie when we almost, just for a minute, think the images are real, thanks to Rush’s malleable acting skills and a few clever lighting tricks, but only for a second.

We begin as Sellers is shifting into film after BBC radio’s The Goon Show and through his difficulties breaking into the movie industry. Afraid that he will always be regarded as “the ringmaster in a circus of twits”, he finally goes to an audition in costume and gets a role in a film. This is paralleled with his physical problems and his troubled personal life – marriage and children with Anne (Watson) and Britt Ekland (Theron), flings with Sophia Loren (Aquino) among others, strange relationship with his parents (Margolyes and Vaughn), and working relationships with Blake Edwards (Lithgow) and Stanley Kubrick (Tucci).

What emerges is a portrait of a tortured genius so deeply immersed in his characters that he virtually disappeared; a man so obsessed with his own identity that he found it impossible to relate to others. Sellers famously said that, without a role to play, he had no character of his own, and Rush captures that aspect of the man with poignant elegance.

Leaving an on-set lunch with her son, who behaves entirely as Dr. Strangelove, someone asks Peg how Peter is. “I don’t know really,” she says. “I didn’t see him.” What the film never captures is the childlike joy he conveyed in his films. The brilliant comedy we all saw is here shown as merely a ruthless drive to work.

If you have no knowledge of Peter Sellers’ acting genius, it’s difficult to engage with this artfully inventive biography. This complex, intelligent portrait centres so deeply in Sellers’ mind that it only paints half the picture.

**** Brilliant, but somehow lacking – a little like the man himself…