Behind The Candelabra offers a fascinating look at life of Liberace, a man whose glamorous public persona disguised a dramatic and often dark personal life. The film provides a compelling insight into his complex character and relationships, focusing on his time with Scott, a young gay man with no family of his own. The film is entertaining throughout, offering an unflinching look at a relationship in turmoil while deriving humour from the often ridiculous circumstances of their lives: Liberace’s army of elderly female fans who fail to realise he is gay and the LA plastic surgeons who recommend multiple procedures for the 20 year old Scott.
There are two distinct sides to the film. On one hand, it is a wry comedy which celebrates the opulence of Liberace’s life, his showmanship and the 1970s entertainment industry. But it also has a much darker undertones as it explores the unravelling of a toxic relationship against a backdrop of Hollywood excess.
There was controversy surrounding decision to cast straight actors in the lead roles of the film. It is a testament to director Stephen Soderbergh and actors Michael Douglas and Matt Damon that the film works so well. The performers wholeheartedly embrace the challenge, focusing the audience’s attention on the story of a relationship shattered by insecurities and fame. The film successfully conveys the immense pressures which were put on gay men in society at the time which forced them to live a lie, as well as the stigma which was attached to HIV.
Micheal Douglas gives a phenomenal performance in the lead role, embodying the larger than life character. Liberace is presented as the ultimate diva, obsessed with youth and appearance, with more concern for his audience than for those closest to him. With Scott, his manner is almost childlike and self-pitying, as if his fame has kept him in a state of arrested development. Despite this fragility, he is able to change in an instant revealing a fierce and controlling nature. One of the most powerful moments in the film comes when he suddenly answers back to Scott, reminding him of the control he has over every aspect of his life.