In the past pretty much any film that was ‘made for television’ was guaranteed to be of fairly mediocre standard. The career graveyard for any film actor worth his salt. If there is one film that will change this perception once and for all, it is Steven Soderbergh’s dazzling Liberace biopic ‘Behind the Candelabra.’ Although it was released yesterday in UK cinemas, in the US it will be screened on HBO and so will not qualify for Oscar consideration. This is a crying shame as Michael Douglas as the camper-than-Christmas Liberace, gives one of the most remarkable performances of his career. Meanwhile father of 3, Matt Damon playing the troubled Scott Thorson (Liberace’s lover and chauffeur) has never been better.
The story centres on pianist Liberace’s 6 year relationship with Scott Thorson. Having spent most of his formative years in and out of state care and foster homes, Scott views Liberace as the family he never had and goes to great length to sustain the entertainer’s affections; such as enduring facial surgery, when Liberace decides he bizarrely wants Scott to look like his younger self. Behind the gaudiness and glitter of Liberace’s gold lifestyle, the fancy cars and the house boys, the fluffy dogs and the champagne hot tubs, lies a cold almost reptilian man. As Scott struggles to keep his youth and his sanity, the relationship crumbles.
However bleak the story, Douglas fills his role with wit and humour. During a row Liberace tells Scott, ’Please don’t be unhappy, don’t have a face like that. I can’t stand it, especially after all the money I paid for it!’ Rob Lowe is hilarious as Liberace’s plastic surgeon, with a face so taut that it could be a trampoline.
The last Soderbergh film was the woeful ‘Side Effects’ which had absolutely no effect on me. Cold, dull and plodding it was a waste of two hours of my life watching it. However ‘Behind the Candelabra’ is filled with warmth and subtlety; both caustic and tender, funny and sad. Soderbergh has claimed that this is his film is his swansong, and if this really is the case, it is our loss. ‘Behind the Candelabra’ is a triumph. If there is a better film this year, I have yet to see it. So all you lucky ducks in the States, grab the popcorn and flick on the TV – this is a must see!