Peter Sellers receives a fittingly amusing and hollow biopic in The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers. Geoffrey Rush stars as the infamous British comic, who brought laughter to millions with radio's The Goon Show and the Pink Panther movies, but proved spoilt, brattish and hateful in his private life: beating his wives and forever throwing tantrums. This BBC/HBO Films co-production leaves out many of his excesses and yet he still appears unpleasant, with Rush adding humanity while never quite making us care.
The Shine star excels in the movies-within-the-movies moments, whether dressed as bolshy shop stewart Fred Kite in I'm All Right Jack, or hitting upon the inspiration for the clutz Inspector Clouseau (from the look of this hilarious, plane-set scene, the makers of Steve Martin's remake of The Pink Panther should have cast the Aussie to star). The problem comes in playing a performer who, for all his genius comic timing, was rarely emotionally involving; a man who once said, "There used to be a me behind the mask but I had it surgically removed."
"UNSETTLING AND EMOTIONALLY ALIENATING"
Just how do you illuminate and explore a life of someone often said to have had no personality? Director Stephen Hopkins does, ultimately, appear to accept that there is no explaining the person; certainly not in film - where you can only cram in so many of the life-changing incidences that make up a man. Sellers' childhood, for instance, is ignored here, as are his early days as a stand-up, with the screenwriters spanning from the Goons until near his death, from a heart attack, aged 54.
What is effectively dealt with is his unhealthily close relationship to his mother, his monstrous selfishness and chameleonic ability - with Rush chatting to the camera, at points, dressed as other key characters in Sellers' life (his first wife, his mum). This proves involving, unsettling, and emotionally alienating; it's hard to care about anyone here. But if we are supposed to enter the psyche of Sellers, maybe that's the point.