Behind the Candelabra Review


Liberace exclaims “I love to give the people a good time” which is exactly what director Steven Soderbergh does through a full blend of humour, drama and good old fashioned entertainment in ‘Behind the Candelabra’.

Michael Douglas plays celebrated Las Vegas based entertainer Liberace, famed for his brilliant piano playing, ostentatious living and having a fancy for candelabras yet it’s his debated homosexuality that garnered most interest amongst the public. The film revolves around the relationship between an ageing Liberace and a new youthful lover in naïve country boy Scott Thorson (Matt Damon). It’s the truth behind the proverbial candelabra that takes centre stage, exploring the Liberace hidden from the public eye through his tumultuous private relationships.

The crux of the film is in the Liberace and Scott’s relationship and their chemistry on screen; luckily Douglas and Damon are nothing short of magnificent throughout.

Douglas’ portrayal of Liberace is brilliantly captivating as he steals the show with a near perfect reincarnation of his real life alter ego. For those not familiar with Liberace or his performances a quick look on Youtube for them will reaffirm how well Douglas has nailed down his character; from his camp mannerisms and his flamboyant personality to his replica stage performances. While Douglas succeeds in becoming Liberace his biggest achievement is in creating multifaceted character when it would have been easy to let the celebrated stage presence monopolise the film. Through the course of the film you find yourself judging Liberace, weighing up whether his searches for love are genuine or in fact he is just an egotistical maniac using Scott like the many young men before him; it’s down to Michael Douglas’ superb acting that Liberace appears so real and conflicted on screen.

To say that Douglas is the star performer would do a huge disservice to Matt Damon who is equally outstanding. Scott’s journey from prospective vet to Liberace’s “Golden Adonis”, with the help of some neat prosthetics, is a fascinating one as he predictably succumbs to the vices of a life of riches and celebrity status. Damon gives one of his best performances in recent times showing a darker more aggressive side that’s often missing from some of his more apathetic, middle of the road roles in ‘Promised Land’ and ‘We Bought a Zoo’.

While the two leading men do a brilliant job in their respective roles it would be in vain without a similarly impressive plot and script, both of which are supplied by Soderbergh. The script is as slick and witty as anything crafted on stage by Liberace, managing to draw a fine line between providing first rate drama and providing an abundance of entertainment. The humour is fittingly made out of innuendos and camp quips, slotting in seamlessly with Liberace’s character, without reducing the film to a glorified Carry On film. The supporting cast of sycophantic helpers are also infused with comic value, notably Liberace’s plastic surgeon’s plastic face (an unrecognisable Rob Lowe) whose brief appearances are nothing sort of hysterical.

Despite being an extremely funny film Soderbergh effectively cranks up the pressure pulling no punches when necessary. The graphic sex scenes are sure to be branded excessive by some but, coupled with the hard drug use, is needed to give the film a gritty edge in light of the overwhelmingly glossy content that takes up the majority. Without giving too much away there is a particularly gruelling scene that is especially shocking as it should be but also in the context of Michael Douglas’ recent health problems.

‘Behind the Candelabra’ is more than just your average film biopic; it’s an insight into the sordid personal life of one of the last great traditional entertainers in America, achieved with panache, charm and drama worthy of the man labelled ‘Mr Showmanship’. With the two lead men on such form the on screen chemistry is never in doubt, it’s great to see Michael Douglas back on top form following his recovery from cancer as he does a sterling job as glitter Queen Liberace, debatably putting himself in good stead to collect his 3rd academy award. While the actors are likely to get all the credit director Soderbergh must be praised for his approach that hits all the right keys, with an indefinite retirement on the cards for the consistent director he can certainly bow out on a high. “Too much of a good thing is wonderful!” Liberace proclaims floating to the top of his stage and in regards to ‘Behind the Candelabra’ it couldn’t be more applicable.

9/10- Liberace Still Knows How to Put on a World Class Show