Behind the Candelabra

Show-business is all about the business of show.  Nowhere is this seen more than with performers keen on espousing its virtues.  Liberace was one such entertainer who enjoyed hiding behind a glittering façade.  Whilst keeping audiences in raptures with his amazing musical skills and ‘camp’ act, under the surface he was a multi-faceted soul.  Although movie biographies love dwelling on the ‘sad aspects’ of its subject ‘Behind the Candelabra’ is an intriguing look at a self-made icon.


In 1977 Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) worked as a movie animal trainer.  When he met a Hollywood producer in a gay bar, he was introduced to flamboyant performer Liberace (Michael Douglas). Eventually forming a relationship, the next decade would be a tumultuous one.  Becoming Liberace’s ‘assistant’, plastic surgery, pornography and infidelity would test their initial bond.


Based on Thorson’s book, ‘Behind the Candelabra’ is often fascinating.  Making it so compelling is the complex relationship between the two men.  From Thorson’s frustrated ambitions to Liberace’s needful nature what drove them together would cause turmoil.  This isn’t a scandalous hatchet job on a revered entertainer but a portrait of someone creating their own world and expecting others to accept it.  Steven Soderbergh’s astute direction ensures we receive a reasonably detailed glimpse of his often strange existence.


Helping convey his latter life are the wonderful performances. Casting Douglas as the glittering pianist is inspired with Damon an effective match.   You truly believe in their partnership with Liberace’s promiscuous appetite providing most of their conflicts.  They are ably supported by some great co-stars with Rob Lowe as Liberace’s bizarre plastic surgeon a highlight.  The production design suitably evokes the kitsch universe in which they lived without taking away from the drama of the piece.


‘Behind the Candelabra’ succeeds in uncovering layers of an enigma such as Liberace.  Like most people he was a mass of contradictions with only his stage shows a consistent element of a befuddling and bedazzling life.


Rating out of 10:  8


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