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The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004)

Never judge a man by his cover.

Rating: 5/10

Running Time: 122 minutes

UK Certificate: 15


It’s almost become something of a cliché for comedy legends to be haunted by inner demons. Peter Sellers was just one of many adored entertainers who, if this patchy biopic is anything to go by, slotted into the “tortured genius” pigeon-hole as well as any other comic luminary you could care to think of. Does that alone make his life worthy of a two-hour movie? Perhaps, but it’s a question that ‘The Life and Death of Peter Sellers’ struggles to answer with any conviction.

Here, the star of such chortlesome hits as The Pink Panther, Dr Strangelove and The Ladykillers is played by Geoffrey Rush. Caked in make-up, Rush bears an uncanny resemblance to Sellers, and gets practically every element of the guy’s mannerisms spot on, with the one crucial exception of his virtually unmatchable comic talent. You could say, then, that Rush comes as close to perfecting the role as anyone could.

Of course, most of us have seen a Sellers film at one point or another, and wrinklier viewers will also be familiar with his early radio work as part of ‘The Goons’ (look out for Steve ‘The League of Gentlemen’ Pemberton doing a cracking impression of Harry Secombe), but this is a film less concerned with his career than his private life, and what it was that made him tick. It’s a nice idea, but the problem is that – by all accounts – Sellers the man and Sellers the man on-screen generally over-lapped to the point that few people really knew the real him. It’s an issue the film does highlight, but essentially it’s one that director Stephen Hopkins struggles to get to grips with. Hopkins – whose patchy CV includes Predator 2 and Lost in Space – tries to show us said overlap via colourful, artsy fantasy sequences, all of which are nice to look at but invariably lack focus.

The screenplay – written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and taking its lead from the Roger Lewis book of the same name – is bland in quality and surprisingly lacking in comic relief. Couple that with Hopkins’ at-times painfully slow direction and you’re left with a viewing experience which rapidly turns into a bit of a chore.

The only real triumphs come from the actors, with Rush’s admirable display matched by side players like Emily Watson as Sellers’ long-suffering ex-missus Anne, Charlize Theron as wifey number two Britt Ekland, John Lithgow as Blake Edwards and Stanley Tucci as Stanley Kubrick. Also among this impressive line-up are the likes of Stephen Fry, Nigel Havers, Edward Tudor-Pole, Heidi Klum, and Mackenzie Crook. With some better material to work with, who knows how impressive a production that lot might have been able to come up with?

It's Got: A pony called Fred and slightly-impractical motorbike.

It Needs: More life.

DVD Extras A choice of audio commentary from eith Rush and Hopkins or Markus and McFeely, plus some deleted scenes and a 10-minute ‘Making Of’ featurette. Version reviewed: The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers from Amazon UK also from DVD Extras Rating: 4/10


A troubled portrayal of a troubled life.