Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, Rob Lowe
Watch Behind the Candelabra online in the UK: TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
When Michael Douglas appeared at the 2013 Emmys to pick up his award for Best Actor, he stole the show – which is exactly what he does in Behind the Candelabra.
Playing Liberace, or Lee as he is known to close friends, you might expect that he dazzles, but beyond the jewellry, rhinestones and ostrich feathers, Douglas also brings to the role the real emotion of a lonely and complex man in need of a family.
After one Vegas show, he is introduced by a mutual friend, Bob (an unrecognisable Scott Bakula, of Quantum Leap), to the young Scott Thorson (Matt Damon). Scott, who loves animals, was brought up by foster parents on a ranch, and immediately reaches out to help Lee’s blind poodle, Baby Boy. From this moment, their employer-employee relationship quickly flourishes into one of lovers. All credit to Damon, he plays Scott mostly without – but occasionally with – the finest dusting of campness. Even at the most opportune moments, he carefully resists.
Over the next six years, Lee goes through a number of incarnations thanks to his reptilian plastic surgeon, Dr. Jack Startz (Rob Lowe).
(At this point, we should pause to dwell on Rob Lowe’s many creepy/glossy/waxy/stretched/repulsive expressions, all of which are utterly fascinating. Behind the Candelabra won a total of 11 Emmys, including Outstanding Make-Up – it is easy to see why.)
Lee wishes to make Scott a younger version of himself, which enables Startz to hawk diet pills and chin implants to the impressionable youth – and also bring some light relief to what is otherwise a serious drama.
Plastic Fantastic: Rob Lowe’s face in Behind the Candelabra
Anyone old enough to remember the man himself will know that Liberace was an enigma – and, at the time, not openly gay – who could captivate an audience with his talent and showmanship. As the lead, Douglas carries this off with aplomb, exploding onto the stage with his presence. He steals nearly every scene, no matter how small.
With cinematography and direction by Steven Soderbergh, music by the late Marvin Hamlisch and small roles for Dan Aykroyd and Debbie Reynolds, Behind the Candelabra premiered on HBO – but it is very much an A-List movie.
As Liberace once said: “I didn’t get dressed like this to go unnoticed.” Behind the Candelabra certainly deserves not to be.