The Life and Death of Peter Sellers

Too much experience, too much weight: Rush fails the Goon challenge
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The Cannes of Peter Sellers is an infinitely challenging one, and Geoffrey Rush, the latest actor to step into his shoes, certainly lends aplomb to the part.

The Cannes of Peter Sellers is an infinitely challenging one, and Geoffrey Rush, the latest actor to step into his shoes, certainly lends aplomb to the part.

But the Oscar-winning Australian, who plays the title role in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, brings a shade too much weight and experience to his portrayal of the great British comic actor.

Rush stars alongside the South African actress Charlize Theron (as Sellers' second wife Britt Ekland) and the British actress Emily Watson in the Stephen Hopkin's-directed biopic. As well as impersonating Sellers through three decades, he has to recreate the character's myriad indelible performances (three roles in Dr Strangelove alone).

In some sequences, he appears in the guise of his mother Peg, his first wife Anne and the directors Stanley Kubrick and Blake Edwards, to comment on his character in asides to the camera. "You can get so much more done if you eliminate the personal element," suggests Rush-as-Sellers-as-Kubrick. "Peter Sellers didn't need to learn this lesson. There was no person there in the first place."

While Rush scores some laughs re-enacting Sellers' best shtick, you have to wonder what a natural comedian like Jim Carrey or Mike Myers might have brought to the party.

Hopkins has an undistinguished track record on the big screen, but seems to have recharged his creative batteries working on television shows like 24.

He has fun with the material, but in the end, it's hard to base a film around a personality who wasn't there, and the film-makers can't come up with an epiphany any better than the one Sellers fashioned for himself in his masterpiece, Being There. Sellers' life is already well documented ­ he was an avid photographer and amateur film-maker. Stephen Hopkins' film contends that he was driven to stardom by Peg. "I didn't bring you up to be content," she tells him. "If you want success, bite the hand that feeds you."

Dissatisfied with his Goon Show fame, Sellers breaks into the movie business with a string of roles in films like The Ladykillers and I'm All Right Jack (for which he won a Bafta). A chameleon actor, he has less sense of who he is than of who he wants to be.

At home, he's an erratic, volatile husband to Anne (Emily Watson), given to violent temper tantrums and childish pique.

Besotted with his co-star Sophia Loren in The Millionairess he calls a family meeting and announces that he's moving out. "Do you still love us?" demands his five-year-old daughter. "Of course I do, darling," he replies. "Just not as much as Sophia Loren."

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