Went to see a mystery movie on Tuesday with my chum Melanie. The UGC gives out a pair of free tickets to pass holders from time to time to see a mystery film, then fill in a rating card afterwards. Films which get the stamp of approval from viewers go on into their audience recommended strand. So, with no idea what we were going to see, we settled down in a busy theatre. One-off showing, so no tedious adverts or trailers, just right into the movie. And it turned out to be one I was eager to see – the Life and Death of Peter Sellers. The incomparable Geoffrey Rush plays the British comic legend, both young and old Sellers, which is unusual in a biopic, but then this is an unusual movie about a very unusual man.
The opening credits were animated in a style deliberately reminiscent of the Pink Panther films, before the film launches into the arena which first made Sellers famous: the marvellous Goon Show with Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe. Moving through Sellers’ personal and professional life the film eschews the predictable route of either fly-on-the-wall documentary style or the cliché-ridden funny-man who was tragically depressed route. It’s incredibly inventive, playing with – and sometimes breaking – cinematic norms, occasionally breaking through the celluloid equivalent of the Proscenium Arch. Rush is simply fabulous (as he always is, whether he is in Pirates of the Caribbean or Shine) and has a great supporting cast, including Charlize Theron, John Lithgow, Stanley Tucci, Emily Watson, Stephen Fry and Miriam Margolyes. It is realistic and also surrealistic, incredibly funny (Sellers trying out his various characters for Dr. Strangelove) and yet so sad and tragic (his child-like inability to hold together adult relationships, his desperate efforts to film Being There, a story about a man who has no real personality except the roles he plays, obviously a meaningful story for the chameleonic Sellers); it is a fabulous movie in my (not very) humble opinion. If, like me, you are a huge fan of Sellers and the Goons then that’s a bonus, but you don’t need to be to enjoy it.
Watching it made me want to go back and re-visit a lot of Sellers’ work. It also brought back some warm memories for me: performing a Goon Show with my friends for school concerts (ying-tong-iddle-i-po!); seeing my first Pink Panther film. I still remember that so well, although I was still only a very young boy at the time, perhaps 8 or 9. A wet night on holiday so my parents and I went to the movies. I got to pick and wanted to see the Pink Panther. My parents are worried – they explain to me that this isn’t the same as the TV Pink Panther cartoons (have you ever seen a panther who was pink? Think! A panther who was positively pink.). Me being me (even at that age) I told them I know what it is, so in we go, with my parents fully expecting me to be bored soon and wanting to leave. Instead of which the three of us had the most wonderful night. I sat there, 8 years old, laughing and laughing, sitting between my mum and my dad and everything else in the world didn’t matter except I had them on either side of me and pure magic on a glowing screen in front of me. That was one of the many gifts Peter Sellers gave to me. It is a shame that often comedians never receive the respect for their work that more dramatic actors will garner. I suspect most critics simply don’t appreciate how enormously difficult it is to make comedy and how hard it is psychologically to sustain the comedy, not to mention the burden of people then expecting for the funny man to always be the funny man, which I can appreciate on a certain level. Anyway, it is an amazing film and I really do recommend it to one and all.