Is Behind the Candelabra my favourite film of 2013? Probably not. I don’t usually decide these things until 31st December just in case I see something else in these next few days, but it’s certainly one of the best, and a fitting adieu for one of the modern cinematic greats, director Steven Soderbergh.
While intended as a HBO TV movie, the UK thankfully received a theatre release, allowing us to relish in the beautiful set design and the larger-than-life personality of Liberace on the big screen. Behind the Candelabra tells the story of the last few years of Liberace’s life, specifically his six-year relationship with Scott Thorson.
It’s a feat in itself that I was able to suspend my disbelief enough to accept 42-year-old Damon playing Thorson, who at the start of the film is 17, but Damon accurately and impressively captures Thorson’s journey from naïve teenager, to a man in love, to a jealous and paranoid drug addict without resorting to hysterics. The supporting actors are all fantastic too, including a memorable and hilarious turn from Rob Lowe’s bizarre-faced plastic surgeon.
Liberace’s taste for over-the-top fashion, home décor, and his general vanity, are perfectly realised, and it is this that makes the quiet, loving, or dark, hurtful moments of his and Thorson’s relationship such fascinating viewing. While there’s lots of humour contained, it’s Thorson’s growing resentment and suspicion that drive the film forward and stick in your memory.
But the star of the show is Soderbergh, who with this lovingly crafted and expertly filmed biopic has shown us what a great loss to cinema his retirement will be. Following hits such as Magic Mike, this seems to be a second peak in his career. I haven’t seen his other swan-song, Side Effects but I’m sure that is also a sublime piece of film-making. While Liberace’s life and career ended in sickness and heartbreak, Soderbergh is at least ending on the highest of highs.