Review: Behind the Candelabra (15)

Undated Film Still Handout from Behind The Candelabra. Pictured: MICHAEL DOUGLAS as Liberace and MATT DAMON as Scott Thorson. See PA Feature FILM Film Reviews. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Entertainment One. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Film Reviews.
Undated Film Still Handout from Behind The Candelabra. Pictured: MICHAEL DOUGLAS as Liberace and MATT DAMON as Scott Thorson. See PA Feature FILM Film Reviews. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Entertainment One. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Film Reviews.

Liberace always bowed down at the altar of excess. “Too much of a good thing is wonderful,” he famously proclaimed.

No doubt the flamboyant entertainer would have approved of the bouffant hairstyles, outlandish fashions and gaudy decor - referred to as ‘palatial kitsch’ - festooning Steven Soderbergh’s handsome biopic.

Based on the autobiography of Liberace’s lover Scott Thorson, Behind The Candelabra exposes the tormented showman behind the fur-lined and sequin-bedecked myth.

Soderbergh’s film traces the men’s relationship from a fortuitous first meeting in 1977 to Liberace’s death bed in 1987, when the entertainer attempted to keep his HIV status secret from fans and the gutter press.

Richard LaGravenese’s script unfolds in chronological order, peppered with tart one-liners (“After cooking and sex, I think shopping is the reason to get up every day”), gifted largely to Michael Douglas as the fleet-fingered musician, who sued anyone that dared to suggest he was gay.

It’s a tour de force portrayal from Douglas that would be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination had the film not been conceived for US cable television.

Behind The Candelabra opens in a gay bar where Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) meets choreographer Bob Black (Scott Bakula), who takes Scott to Las Vegas to enjoy a sold-out performance by Liberace (Douglas).

At Bob’s insistence, Scott abandons rural Wisconsin for the bright lights of the big city, where he is taken under Liberace’s wing and encouraged to explore his sexuality.

Behind The Candelabra trades biting wit, romance and heartbreak to lay bare the emotional bonds between Scott and his famous partner.

Damon has the less showy and more difficult role and he rises to the occasion magnificently.

The white hot glow of Douglas’s performance distracts from the sluggish pacing of the film’s final third and the broad sketching of peripheral characters.

However, the glitz and glamour are intoxicating and Soderbergh’s film swishes tantalisingly close to Liberace’s favourite and over-used superlative: “Fabulous!”

Star rating 4/5