BEHIND THE CANDELABRA (2013) – In UK Cinemas Now

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Directed by Steven Soderbergh

A young Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) is introduced to the flamboyant Las Vegas entertainer and talented pianist, Liberace (Michael Douglas), at a show by his friend, Bob Black (Scott Bakula). After Scott procurs some medicine for his pet poodle, Liberace (aka Lee) invites Scott back over to Vegas and the two embark on a love affair as Scott agrees to work for him. Flush with money, Lee spoils Scott rotten and Scott gets accustomed to living the lavish lifestyle. Keen on looking good and feeling healthy, Lee requests a facelift for himself and facial reconstruction for Scott to look like him, as well as to lose a few pounds. After enrolling on Dr Jack Startz’s (Rob Lowe) ‘California Diet’, Scott spirals out of control, addicted to the drugs he’s being prescribed and paranoid at the promiscuous nature of Liberace, who’s on the hunt for younger male flesh whilst depicting himself to the public as a straight man.

Behind The Candelabra tells the story of the relationship between Scott Thorsen and Liberace up until Lee’s death in 1987 from AIDS. Inspired by Thorsen’s memoirs written in the novel of the same name, the film is a touching story of two people who truly loved one another amidst the showbiz and outrageous lifestyle of one of the world’s biggest and richest entertainers. Liberace’s wealth plays a big part in the film, with the abundance of money rather overwhelming to countryboy Thorsen, giving Lee the upperhand in the relationship. That’s not to say he was mistreated. In the film, Liberace is quite sweet and exceptionally caring, but in parts – particularly the facial surgery – it does appear as though Scott doesn’t have a choice in the matter. It seems that the relationship starts to go downhill after the surgery, with Scott getting addicted to drugs and Liberace’s wandering eye leering for something younger.

How would I describe Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in Behind The Candelabra? Mesmerising would be a good adjective. Considering the fact that these are probably two of the most heterosexual actors in the business, previously starring in macho roles, makes it all the more amazing that they convincingly play a gay couple who were so deeply in love with one another. Michael Douglas is delightfully over-the-top as Liberace, sparkling in his sequined jacket, and with a campness which is hard to overlook, making it more astounding that most of Liberace’s staight fans didn’t realise he was gay. Matt Damon’s bisexual Scott is quite shy in comparison and from various scenes in the film and lines delivered, it’s clear he’s not overly comfortable being in a gay relationship, despite loving Liberace. It’s an outrage that these two Academy Award winning actors are exempt from nominations in what may be, quite possibly, their best performance of their careers? All due to the fact that HBO funded the production and it will be aired on US television instead of being released in theatres. It’s thanks to Entertainment One that the British audience have been able to witness this incredible film and a much larger audience in America will now get to see this well-crafted drama from the comfort of their own homes, courtesy of HBO.

Having watched quite a few Steven Soderbergh movies, it’s safe to say I quite enjoy his easy-to-watch style which focuses on the acting and delivering a story coherently. When the situation calls for it, his team can produce amazing sets which they’ve done for Behind The Candelabra, which beautifully depicts Liberace’s luxurious lifestyle. Pianos, rhinestones and plenty of candelabras make up the contents of Liberace’s grand home, very ‘palatial kitsch’, as Michael Douglas’ Liberace exclaims. Over-run with pet dogs, antiques and a courtyard full of expensive stunning motors, the sets truly give the viewer an impression of what it must’ve been like to be that wealthy.

As I said previously, Matt Damon and Michael Douglas portray a couple deep in love in Behind the Candelabra and don’t shy away from the intimate sex scenes. The chemistry sparks fly between them out of the bedsheets too, with Liberace eagerly eyeing up Scott in the dressing room, leaning over for a kiss at breakfast and grabbing Scott’s groin in the limo on the way to a porn shop. The film is not short of wit, innuendo and humour either, with plenty of giggles to be had by various scenes and lines, in particular from Liberace. A couple of segments stand out in my head, one being where Liberace’s mother Frances, played by Vegas entertainer and actress Debbie Reynolds, wins the jackpot on the one arm bandit in Liberace’s home, but to her surprise is not paid out. With a lack of loose change in the machine or in the house, Frances gladly adds “I can take cheque”. The other scene is when a disgusted Scott can hear Liberace shouting from the bedroom about ‘how can he fit it down his throat? It’s bigger than his head!’.

Full marks go to the make-up and wardrobe department who craft Damon and Douglas into almost replicas of their real-life characters. They successfully make 42 year old Damon look much younger, maybe not the 17 year old they were after, but definitely a man in his 20’s, though the ages of both Scott Thorson and Liberace are never mentioned in this title. The make-up they did on Rob Lowe’s plastic surgeon Dr Jack Startz was amazing and the transition between Liberace and Scott Thorson pre and post plastic surgery is quite astounding yet scary at the same time, with Thorson definitely getting the raw end of the deal. The make up is used to good effect in the latter end of the film during Liberace’s illness, and a buff Matt Damon renders down to lean muscle after his ‘Californian diet’.

I could truly bang on about Behind The Candelabra all day, and for someone who usually writes short reviews (in contrast to my fellow reviewers), this may be one of my longest yet. I suggest everyone to see this film for a wonderful, entertaining biopic of the globe’s most eleborate of entertainers. A spectacular hit!

Rating: ★★★★★

About Bat 7860 Articles
I love practical effects, stop-motion animation and gore, but most of all I love a good story! I adore B-movies and exploitation films in many of their guises and also have a soft spot for creature features. I review a wide range of media including movies, TV series, books and videogames. I'm a massive fan of author Hunter S. Thompson and I enjoy various genre of videogames with Kingdom Hearts and Harvest Moon two of my all time favs. Currently playing: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Yakuza Zero and Webbed.


  1. I finally got around to watching Behind the Cadelabra yesterday afternoon and found the the film engaging, touching and entertaining. Michael Douglas was quite incredible in the role of the flamboyant entertainer and Matt Damon was equally as good. Rob Lowe stole the show for me as the repugnant plastic surgeon. The plastic surgery scene were really quite gruesome.

    • Glad you got to see it David. It was emotional in a lot of ways. It’s a shame it won’t qualify for the Oscars. Yeah, Rob Lowe was fantastic too. All the actors did an amazing job.

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