HBO is the luminary of the TV world: First The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and now Behind the Candelabra. Having premiered on the US TV network, this biopic based on Scott Thorson’s six-year relationship with world-famous singer and pianist Liberace is being released in cinemas this side of the Atlantic.
Born Wladziu Valentino Liberace in Wisconsin in 1919, Liberace, or Lee, grew up to become one of the most popular performers of his generation in America. Throughout his prolific career, which spanned four decades, the flamboyant performer continued to deny that he was gay, even suing those who spoke or wrote to the contrary. Behind the Candelabra is the first true movie insight into the private life of the eccentric man behind the make-up, who died in 1987.
The film, which is based on Thorson’s autobiography, reveals how the then-teenager moved from a foster home into the Las Vegas mansion of 57-year-old Liberace in 1977. Over the next two hours he reveals how their relationship developed, before crumbling horribly in a story which strikes the balance between tragedy and humour.
Douglas is so perfectly cast that it is easy to believe director Steven Soderbergh convinced him to accept the role when they worked together 13 years ago on Traffic, which incidentally earned the Ocean’s director his Oscar. It's odd to think that he also pictured Damon as the buff, tanned, beautifully coiffed and tiny pants-wearing Scott when working with him on The Informant! or any of the Ocean's films, but perhaps that’s the genius of the man. Douglas and Damon are nothing short of superb in their respective roles and if this is truly Soderbergh’s final feature, what a way to go.
It may have taken him half a century, but Rob Lowe gives the funniest performance of his career to date and really suffered for his art to bring his character - an over-zealous, drug-dealing plastic surgeon - to life.
Just as Netflix changed the rules of TV broadcasting when it simultaneously released the full series of House of Cards in February online, HBO has broken new ground in film. By adding the Oscar-worthy-but-ineligible Behind the Candelabra to an impressive TV film list, which includes Kevin Spacey’s Recount and Ed Harris’ Game Change, they have bypassed cinema and the Academy Awards. Does twice Oscar-winning Douglas care - or even Oscar-winners Damon and Soderbergh?
Liberace certainly doesn’t care and given the response to this Cannes Palme d’Or nominee to date, the likelihood is, neither will you.