Dir: Stephen Hopkins. US. 2004. 129 mins

A tour de forceperformance from Geoffrey Rush is the star attraction and saving grace of The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers, aflashy, highly selective biography of the late comedian. Sellers signaturecharacter was the defective detective Inspector Clouseau but Chance in Being There appears to have been theclosest he came to playing himself. Chance was a blank piece of paper whosepersonality was defined by the way he was perceived and treated by those aroundhim.

The film followsthe lead of Roger Lewis's mammoth biography by contending that Sellers was anequally hollow man who only came alive by inhabiting the comfort of a fictionalcharacter. It is a solid but rather earthbound addition to the ranks of torturedgenius biographies (Sylvia, Hilary AndJackie etc) seeking the one insight that might help construct a sweepingpsychological profile.

Twenty-five yearsafter his death, audiences might still buy and appreciate a DVD collection ofSellers' Pink Panther romps but itsdebatable whether they have much interest in learning more of the troubled,often disagreeable man behind them. This biography will struggle to find atheatrical audience before faring significantly better in ancillary markets,especially as a small screen event.

Trying to condensea hectic life and showbusiness career into a two hour biography clearlypresents problems. The Life And Death OfPeter Sellers addresses them by beginning when Sellers (Rush) was at theheight of his radio fame as part of the anarchic Goons. Raised to be ambitiousby his smothering mother Peg (Margoyles), he dreams of cinema stardom and thefilm includes some brief but spot-on recreations of early Sellers performancesin The Ladykillers, The Mouse That Roaredand I'm Alright Jack. Loyal firstwife Anne (Watson) remains by his side as his fame grows and his neurosesexpand. By 1960, he has convinced himself that glamorous co-star Sophia Loren(a radiant Aquino who arrives like summer sunshine in an English winter) is infatuated with him and leaves his wifefor the Italian diva who graciously rebuffs his gauche advances.

Aiming at aFelliniesque portrait of the artist, the film has Rush as Sellers made up askey figures in his life and commenting on events in the guise of his mum, hismild-mannered dad (Vaughan), wife Anne and directors like Stanley Kubrick(Tucci) and Blake Edwards (Lithgow). It provides an opportunity for Rush todazzle with his versatility at characterisation and is in keeping with Sellersrelentless self documentation (home movies, photography etc) and ability tohide beneath multiple masks but it doesn't necessarily add anything extra tothe film or our understanding of the man.

Skimming throughSellers life in the 1960s and beyond, the film covers his marriage to BrittEkland (a very convincing Theron) and the 1964 heart attack that nearly claimedhis life. The approach is always to see Sellers as a clown who wanted to playHamlet or an ordinary, intemperate man whose insecurities were magnified andindulged because of his global fame and wealth.

The film has acertain swashbuckling style and energy that stretches from opening titles inthe manner of The Pink Panther seriesto a brassy, aptly chosen soundtrack byartists of the period including Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones. The performancescannot be faulted. John Lithgow captures the gruff essence of Blake Edwards andhis exasperating love/hate relationship with Sellers over their six filmcollaboration. Stanley Tucci makes a suitably imposing Stanley Kubrick.Theron's Britt Ekland is vivacious and sympathetic and Rush seems to nail manyaspects of Sellers from the slightly manic twinkle in his eye to the repertoireof silly voices, elements of the way he walked and moved and the sense thatunderneath the public face there was probably nothing going on.

Inevitably, thereis a good deal that is missing from the film including coverage of Sellersthird and fourth marriages and the relationship with his adult children whowere shabbily treated in his will. You also assume that there was a need totread carefully in the depiction of individuals who are still alive, includingBritt Ekland and Sophia Loren.

Overall, this trieshard to involve us in the search to discover what made Sellers tick. Watchableand engaging at times, it does leave you pondering quite why they bothered.

Prod Co/Int'lSales: HBO
Prod: Simon Bosanquet
Exec prods: Freddy Demann, George Faber, Charles Pattinson, David M Thompson
Scr: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Cinematography: Peter Levy
Prod des: Norman Garwood
Ed: John Smith
Music: Richard Hartley
Main Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Charlize Theron, Emily Watson, John Lithgow, StanleyTucci, Miriam Margoyles, Peter Vaughan, Stephen Fry, Sonia Aquino