Sellers heads for the White House in perhaps his finest screen performance
Peter Sellers and director Hal Ashby both hit autumnal peaks in this immortal comedy from 1979. Based on Jerzy Kosinski’s scathing novel about a mentally challenged gardener who’s mistaken for a profound soothsayer by America’s political elite, Being There does a balancing act between magical fable and caustic satire. Sellers plays the gardener, Chance, a childlike innocent abroad whose accidental encounter with a dying tycoon (Melvyn Douglas) and his sexually frustrated wife (Shirley MacLaine) propels him towards the highest office in the land. Despite a few lapses into clumsy farce, Ashby holds his nerve and delivers an incredibly rare example of mainstream US cinema steeped in intelligence, subtlety and ambiguity. Sellers partly based his Oscar-nominated characterisation of Chance on comic idol Stan Laurel. This timeless fairy tale about faith, hope and delusion is ever more terrifyingly relevant considering the jug-eared goon currently squatting in the Oval Office.