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Geoffrey Rush, Charlize Theron, Emily Watson, John Lithgow, Miriam Margolyes ... see more see more... , Peter Vaughan , Sonia Aquino , Stanley Tucci , Stephen Fry , Henry Goodman , Alison Steadman , Peter Gevisser , David Robb , Edward Tudor-Pole , Steve Pemberton , Nigel Havers , MacKenzie Crook , George Cicco , James Bentley , Eliza Darby , Lance Ellington , Lucy Punch , Heidi Klum

The often-troubled life of one of the greatest comic actors in the history of the British cinema provides the basis for this biopic. Peter Sellers (Geoffrey Rush) was raised by a domineering mother (M... read more read more...iriam Margolyes) and meek father (Peter Vaughan), and at an early age discovered he liked to hide behind the emotional curtain of playing a character. In time, Sellers put this skill to use as an actor, and discovered he had a great gift for comedy. In the late '50s, Sellers rose to fame on the wildly popular radio series The Goon Show alongside Spike Milligan (Edward Tudor Pole) and Harry Secombe (Steve Pemberton), but as his success on radio gave way to stardom on the big screen, Sellers' ego began to get the better of him. While working on a film with Sophia Loren (Sonia Aquino), Sellers fell in love with the great Italian beauty, and eventually left his wife Anne (Emily Watson) to pursue her; when it became clear that Loren wanted nothing to do with him, Sellers fell into an affair with her stand-in instead. Professionally, Sellers career hits a new high when he agrees to take a role in a picture being directed by American filmmaker Blake Edwards (John Lithgow) called The Pink Panther, and personally he finds a new love with the beautiful Britt Ekland (Charlize Theron). But Sellers' mood swings eventually put paid to their marriage, and while he finds commercial success as a funnyman onscreen, he achieves little in the way of happiness or respect. Produced for the American premium cable service HBO, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers was screened in competition at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

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72% liked it

8,730 ratings


76% liked it

21 critics

Unrated, 2 hr. 9 min.

Directed by: Stephen Hopkins

Release Date: January 1, 2004

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DVD Release Date: May 10, 2005

Stats: 605 reviews

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Flixster Reviews (605)

  • May 30, 2007
    fairly solid, entertaining biopic, felt like the HBO product it was, perhaps slightly constrained budget-wise - nice performance by Geoff Rush
  • July 16, 2014
    Effective, captivating biopic on Peter Sellers, I thought that the film was superbly acted and directed, and it ranks among the finest biopics that I have seen. Peter Sellers was one of cinema's most gifted talents, and his legacy is unique, here he is brought to life in a splend... read moreid and remarkable performance by actor Geoffrey Rush, who delivers one of his career defining roles as the great actor. The film chronicles the career of Peter Sellers and it shows his troubles behind the scenes. Peter Sellers was a talented actor, and Rush is perfect for the part. He really makes the role his own, and it's hard to imagine anyone else in the part. Here we see key moments in Sellers career such him making Dr Strangelove, making the Pink Panther films and marrying actress Britt Ekland. The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is an engaging drama, one that is enjoyable from start to finish. The film is well worth your time and it will surely appeal to fans of the late actor anyone looking for a great drama to watch. At times the film does have a few weak moments, but overall due to the strong performances, the film overcomes them and it's an enjoyable affair well worth your time. Geoffrey Rush is a terrific actor, and here he steals every scene that he's in. Overall, this is a solid film, a wonderful and rich biopic that is well crafted, acted and directed. If you're looking for an entertaining biopic, then this is sure to delight you. The film has its imperfections of course, but it does possess some powerful and memorable performances with great storytelling to make it an entertaining and pleasant two hour viewing experience.
  • August 3, 2012
    A shocking and sad movie to Peter Sellers' fans.
  • April 24, 2011
    It was always going to be difficult to make a film about the life of Peter Sellers. The man was an immensely complicated personality who claimed to have no underlying self. His life was a Molotov cocktail of drug abuse, women and heart attacks, interspersed with some of the fines... read moret character acting ever to grace the silver screen.

    The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is an admirable attempt to portray or depict Sellers, recreating key scenes from his film career alongside problems in his personal life. But despite the best efforts of director Stephen Hopkins and a fine performance by Geoffrey Rush, it never quite satisfies either emotionally or biographically. Whether due to the physical limits of the production or the inherent complexity of Sellers the enigma, in the end it does little more than scratch the surface.

    On the plus side, Peter Sellers (as it shall hence be called) does a very good job of replicating the various period settings. There are all the usual batch of camera tricks, such as using green-screen to recreate streets, and the colours of the film have been manipulated to give the appearance of degraded stock. But on top of the usual whistles and bells, the film captures a number of moments in Sellers' life with such accuracy that it could pass off as a documentary. This is particularly true of the opening section where The Goon Show is recreated on stage, with all the riotousness and anarchy of the original broadcasts.

    The film simply wouldn't work if we didn't believe in the performance of the lead actor, and in this respect Geoffrey Rush is ideal. Although he has the aid of an army of wigs and vast quantities of make-up, he never lets the artifice dominate his characterisation of Sellers or the various roles therein. Rush goes through the same physical transformations of Sellers, moving over the course of the film from podgy to fighting fit and finally ghostly and frail. Most of all, he mimics Sellers' vocal performances very accurately, going beyond impersonation in almost every instance.

    But rather than just have Sellers playing the various characters from his films, Hopkins and Rush contrive to have Sellers playing most of the people around him as well. At key moments, the camera will go 'back stage' and we watch the same characters as played by Sellers. This self-reflexive tactic is unnervingly effective, because it reaches the very core of Sellers' character: he was only happy or honest when he was being other people. Seeing Sellers as Stanley Kubrick in the taxi, we get a more open insight to Sellers than we would ever get from the horses' mouth, and seeing him re-dub the scene of his wife leaving him conveys his desperate need to be loved at any cost.

    The other performances manage to match Rush in terms of quality, even if they don't all get the screen time they deserve. Emily Watson is very good as Sellers' first wife Anne Hayes, who struggles with his cruel streak and his distance from their children. Watson resists the urge to overegg the emotional torment, so that we are convinced that she still loves him even when his behaviour is at its most outrageous. John Lithgow is having a ball as Blake Edwards; even if he is occasionally larger-than-life, he taps into Sellers' ability to produce hatred and admiration often simultaneously. And Miriam Margolyes is a good choice for Sellers' mother, who dominates his early life and instigates his early attempts to get into film.

    On top of this, the film has a number of fantasy moments which are particularly touching. The best of these is the dream sequence in Sellers' head as he is being revived from his near-fatal heart attack. We see the various characters from his film career up to that point - Clare Quilty, Dr. Strangelove, Fred Kite etc. - gathering round his hospital bed, before Sellers rises up on a huge bomb and hits a button on his heart blowing them all up. It's a moment of brief assertion from Sellers, showing his determination to be taken seriously and not be defined or controlled by the other versions of himself on screen.

    Unfortunately, the problems with Peter Sellers eventually outweigh all the aspects of it which are successful. First off, despite its solid production values and fantastical ambitions, it remains very televisual. Doubtless the involvement of HBO, both financially and creatively, came with the very best intentions, and had the film not been released theatrically than this would not have been a problem. But on the big screen, Peter Sellers feels too compact and limited to cut the mustard, and the backstage sequences only reinforce the feeling that the world we are seeing on screen doesn't extend very far beyond it.

    Tied up with this televisual nature is the problem of content versus length. Even with two hours to play with, there is far too much in Sellers' eventful life to fit around the constraints of a feature film. But rather than opt to tell the story in small segments, as a TV miniseries or whole season of shows, Hopkins and his team are forced to cherry-pick what they deem to be the most well-known or important bits.

    While the film therefore serves as a good introduction to both Sellers and his body of work, those more familiar with either will get frustrated by just how much has been omitted, and by how quickly the film gallops through his life. Sellers claimed that his time on The Goon Show was the happiest time of his life, and yet we only get about five or ten minutes of it, including Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe turning up briefly in later scenes. The film never touches on his relationship with The Beatles, or much of his film work in between Dr. Strangelove and the later Pink Panthers. Most annoyingly, there is nothing in it about his last two marriages, or the precise attitude he had towards his children.

    Because the film moves at such a pace, we find it hard to connect with Sellers as a person. This could, of course, be argued as the intention of the film - that Sellers shifted between characters so quickly that you could never see the real him. But in order for the film to work even as an introduction, we have to have some means of connection beyond his display of talent - and there are only fleeting opportunities in which this is possible. As with Mr. Nice, Bernard Rose's biopic of Howard Marks, there is a sense of information being intentionally withheld to such an extent that our ability to empathise begins to wane.

    Had the film been reconfigured for a TV series, we would have got a far greater insight into both Sellers and the various characters which filtered in and out of his life. When we are introduced to Maurice Woodruff, the fraudulent fortune teller played by Stephen Fry, we expect him to get a lot of screen time because of the level of influence he quickly comes to hold. Instead he only gets three scenes and dies off-screen without a second's acknowledgement, so that we never get a proper sense of how greatly Sellers depended on him.

    The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is a film whose failure may not be entirely the fault of its creators. Certainly compared to Hopkins' previous offerings - Predator 2, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 - it is an undeniable work of genius. The problem may be the real Peter Sellers was simply too complex a man to be convincingly summarised in two short hours. In which case, the film is proof of its own failure, functioning as a workable introduction but being found wanting everywhere else.
  • September 30, 2009
    A great insight into the life of Peter Sellers, very well acted by Rush. The choice of actors in some of the supporting roles is a little strange though, has Stephen Hopkins ever seen the Goons?
  • September 15, 2009
    "Never judge a man by his cover."

    The feature adaptation of Roger Lewis' book about the actor best remembered as Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies.


    There's no denying that P... read moreeter Sellers was a comic genius and apparently there was no denying that Peter Sellers was a total bastard. The line is slightly blurred in HBO's biopic about the troubled (and troubling) brilliant actor with a tour-de-force turn by Geoffrey Rush slipping into the frenetic and manic mind of a real original talent sadly curdled by his inner demons.

    Sellers was a unique British performer who got his start in BBC radio and struggled for some time to make the transition to the silver screen but with a ego pampering mother (the always welcome Margolyes) he is given the extra boost to push himself in gaining an audition that would lead to a British Academy Award and eventually international acclaim with the classic Pink Panther films with his hilarious interpretation of the inept French Inspector Jacques Clouseau and an assortment of wonderful films including the iconoclastic Dr. Strangelove and his swan song Being There which would win him a posthumous Oscar nod.

    But the path to global recognition for his gifts proved to be a rocky one from his first marriage to the beleaguered wife Anne (Watson acquits herself nicely here) to his affair with Sophia Loren (the tres sexy Aquino) to his whirlwind heady second marriage to UK starlet Britt Ekland (Theron in a breezy turn) that ultimately lead to Sellers divorcing both and sadly living alone despite fathering a pair of children who he tortured with his manic depressive modes and outbursts of scary violence in his self-doubts and insecurities.

    Rush uncannily embodies the legendary character actor with some fun and at times truly poignant flourishes ? namely when he is attempting to find a 'voice' for a fourth character for Strangelove that leads him to a panic attack and near breakdown that is truly shattering to watch him stewing in his own juices of what an utter failure he found himself to be despite the accolades and adoration of the film world he eventually conquered. Rush also impersonates the people in Sellers' life in a gimmicky dramatic device the director Hopkins employs where the film is a film-within-a-film (i.e. a scene ends with his melancholic father turning to the camera and it is suddenly transformed into Rush). Otherwise it is handled with a nimble pace and some truly lovely period detail with a remarkable production design by Norman Garwood, Jill Taylor's costumes and Peter Levy's sleek cinematography are all aces.

    Based on Roger Lewis' book of the same name, the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely cuts to the meaty sections of Sellers' career with episodes between his favorite directors Blake Edwards and Stanley Kubrick (a jovial Lithgow and a sardonic Tucci, respectively) as well as his family life and the odd relationship he shared with them.

    Sellers in real-life has inspired many comics of today, notably Mike Myers who worshiped him and paid a valentine of sorts in his inspired by Austin Powers films. It's a shame that most comedians need to suffer ? or cause suffering ? to get to their craft; what would they be without it makes one wonder.
  • April 24, 2009
    geoffrey rush plays this part brilliantly and i really good insight into peter sellers and is really a good film especially if your a fan of peter selers or know some of his work so worth a watch
  • April 5, 2007
    Forget 'Ray'- this is the biopic of the year!
    Although this treads the well worn path of the tortured genius, it is injected with a sense of fun by Geoffrey Rush and the superb supporting cast.They generate a genuine emotional clout - you really feel how irritating it must have b... read moreeen to be around him once his comedy schtick wears thin and his eccentricites grate.Clever structuring gives a real sense of how he could only express himself through his characters and 'the film within a film' and shifting perspectives are well integrated.A bold attempt to reinvent a tired genre.
  • January 3, 2007
    Geoffrey Rush turns in an outstanding performance as British comedian Peter Sellers.
  • March 2, 2006
    [font=Century Gothic]"The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" is a biopic of the late comedic actor(Geoffrey Rush), starting in 1950's London when he was a radio performer with The Goon Show and married to his wife, Anne(Emily Watson), and father of two children. Spurred on by his ... read moremother(Miriam Margolyes), Sellers lands a role in an English film playing an old man which led to other roles, eventually winning a British Academy Award for his role in "It's All Right Jack". He makes his breakthrough with American audiences in "The Pink Panther" which is directed by Blake Edwards(John Lithgow). In the meantime, Sellers leads a disastrous personal life.[/font]
    [font=Century Gothic][/font]
    [font=Century Gothic]My main disappointment with "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" is that the emphasis is much more on Sellers' personal life(well, at least his first two marriages...), than on the movies he made and his extraordinary talent. The film comes to life briefly when focusing on his movies inlcuding "The Pink Panther" and "Dr. Strangelove."(But why, oh why, bring up "Casino Royale?") I wish there had been more material on Sellers' working relationship with Blake Edwards. And I did like some of the surreal bits.[/font]
    [font=Century Gothic][/font]
    [font=Century Gothic]Geoffrey Rush is out of his league playing Sellers(but he did do an excellent Sellers impression in "Shine"). He does a very good Clouseau but is not adept at any of Sellers' other creations. I think Steve Coogan would have done a better job. And casting Charlize Theron as Britt Eklund is serious overkill. But Emily Watson and Stanley Tucci as Stanley Kubrick are both excellent.[/font]
    [font=Century Gothic][/font]
    [font=Century Gothic] [/font]

Critic Reviews

Richard Roeper
November 30, 2004
Richard Roeper, Ebert & Roeper

We get movie scenes within movie scenes, and Rush as Sellers breaking character to become Sellers' mom or Edwards, commenting on Sellers, and it all draws too much attention to itself. Full Review

Todd McCarthy
June 1, 2004
Todd McCarthy, Variety

Sustains interest most of the way, but combination of an unsympathetic central figure and patchy recreation of events involving numerous famous people makes for an ambitiously told life story that fin... Full Review

Ray Bennett
June 1, 2004
Ray Bennett, Hollywood Reporter

While In Competition entry The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is a wonderfully entertaining film, the one thing that's missing is Sellers' singular ability to be hilarious.

Nick Davis
January 13, 2012
Nick Davis, Nick's Flick Picks

"There was no real Peter Sellers"... As a theme, it smells of the tired cop-out, somewhere in the same clubhouse of desiccated phrases as "I love you, but I'm not in love with you" and "In a crazy wor... Full Review

Felix Vasquez Jr.
April 29, 2009
Felix Vasquez Jr., Cinema Crazed

A very good biographical picture of a human being who made people laugh, but could never find the humor in his own life. Full Review

Rob Gonsalves
September 24, 2007
Rob Gonsalves,

As a showcase for Geoffrey Rush, though, Life and Death is more than worthwhile. Full Review

Dragan Antulov
October 26, 2005
Dragan Antulov, Draxblog Movie Reviews

flawed but buscinating tribute Full Review

Jimmy O
December 8, 2004
Jimmy O, Film Snobs

A great impressionistic piece about an actor's fantasy becoming their reality. Director Hopkins really makes an exciting leap of faith. Full Review

Larry Carroll
December 5, 2004
Larry Carroll,

The best biopic you're likely to see this year won't be coming to a theater near you. Full Review

Urban Cinefile Critics
August 21, 2004
Urban Cinefile Critics, Urban Cinefile

In a brilliant portrayal by Geoffrey Rush, we are given a glimpse of the absurd, extravagant, surreal, lonely, tragic life of a comic genius. Full Review

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  • in the movie the life and death of peter sellers which actress did he marry?  Answer »
  • "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" starred Geoffrey Rush and was based upon the actual life events of comedian Peter Sellers.   Answer »
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