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Behind The Candelabra

All the glitters is almost gold... Not everyone today will be old enough to remember piano impresario Liberace, so it is hard to imagine just how huge a personality he was in his hey-day, which stretched back from the 1950’s up until his death in 1987. Rather than being a biopic of his life, Behind The Candelabra focuses on Liberace’s private life, and in particular, his relationship with a younger man named Scott Thorson (based Thorsons’ memoirs of the same name).

A frighteningly youthful Matt Damon takes the reins as Thorson, and Michael Douglas as the flamboyant Władziu Valentino Liberace aka ‘Lee’. The year is 1977, and at the age of just eighteen, Thorson is introduced backstage to fifty-eight year old Liberace - the attraction is immediate (especially as Liberace has a taste for young blonde men!). Soon enough Thorson finds himself living with Lee and embarking on a highly secretive five-year love affair. What follows is a fascinating glimpse into Liberaces’ life (albeit a scratch on the surface), in which Scott Thorson slowly loses himself and his identity.

Behind The Candelabra should and probably will be commended for not shying away from the intimacy and the sexual attraction between the Lee and Scott – and Douglas and Damon throw themselves into their roles without vanity.

I did however find Liberace to be somewhat of a predator, and a wholly unlikeable character; at least backstage anyway. On stage, we see Douglas as the glittering showman Liberace - undoubtedly a gifted pianist, Liberaces’ real love affair was with the audience; the way he schmoozed them and made them feel special, and although Douglas makes a sterling effort and looks great (the make up team deserve a nod!), he struggled to convince me. At times, I found his performance to be stifled and restricted, and he makes it hard to see why millions of people loved him so much as a performer. He does however settle into the role towards the latter part of the film; this is where we finally get some depth to the film and characters, and I felt moved by their story. (Admittedly, I couldn’t help wondering what a character actor such as Phillip Seymour Hoffman would have brought to the role.)

That said, I thought that Behind the Candelabra was an interesting film from director Steven Soderbergh that was at times extremely funny – watch out for Rob Lowe stealing the scenes as the plastic surgeon! Ridiculous. One audience member put it so succinctly when he stood up at the end and shouted: “Fabulous!” Fabulous indeed!

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UK Release Date: 
Friday, June 7, 2013
USA Release Date: 
Thursday, June 6, 2013