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THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS (article first published : 2005-05-30)

Peter Sellers was one of the greatest comic actors ever to grace the screen, but he was also an enigma and a most strange individual - selfish, mother-fixated, a wife-beater, a philanderer and a notorious thrower of tantrums that included breaking all his son's toys in a fit of rage, according to The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers.

In fashioning this legend's story, director Stephen Hopkins, hitherto known for such forgettable screen fare as Predator 2 and Lost in Space, has crafted an intriguing, tantalising and revealing film, but also one that is disappointingly episodic.

In his efforts to cram as much as possible of Sellers' life into his film's 127 minutes, Hopkins, working from Roger Lewis's exhaustive biography, bypasses large portions of the actor's life. We get the gallop from Goon Show stardom through the Pink Panther successes, Stanley Kubrick's acclaimed Dr Strangelove and Seller's swansong, the poignant Being There, but we get no mention of the comic's vaudeville childhood, nor his war-time experiences.

Also, only two of his four marriages - to first wife Anne (Emily Watson) and beauty Brit Ekland (Charlize Theron) - get a look-in.

Hopkins depicts Sellers, magnificently portrayed by a chameleonic Geoffrey Rush as a hollow shell, a man who came alive only when wearing masks. "There used to be a me behind the mask but I had it surgically removed," the character says at one stage in the film.

The movie stars Geoffrey Rush and Charlize Theron as Peter Sellers and Britt Ekland. It's a concept taken even further by having Rush, as Sellers, morph into characters around him - including his suffocating mother (Miriam Margolyes) and Stanley Kubrick (Stanley Tucci). It's a pretentious gimmick, used once too often and robs the film of time that could have been better devoted to other areas of interest from Seller's story.

The film may not be everything a fan might have wanted, but it drops some interesting facts and food for thought about the comic icon. It is alone worth seeing for Rush, who is truly dazzling, while most of the supporting performances are also first-rate. Watch for Heidi Klum and John Lithgow. Rating: 7/10. Billy Suter




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