Charlie Chaplin was born in the year the Eiffel Tower opened and died in 1977. That’s a lot of years to wrangle into one biography – even before you take in the rags-to-riches, zero-to-hero-to-popular-villain arc of his life – but this snappy and searching doc makes a very solid fist of it.
The film’s most compelling moments surprisingly come after the laughter stopped for Chaplin. His later years, mulling over his exile from America in a Swiss mansion, get closest to revealing the contradictory man behind the icon: capable of being peevish and mean, but still possessing the grand vision of humanity that birthed the Little Tramp and his finest on-screen moments, like City Lights and Modern Times. His universal rallying call at the end of The Great Dictator gets great play here, but so too does his on-set bullying of City Lights actress Virginia Cherrill and other relationships that would never have survived a 1930s #MeToo moment.
This snappy and searching doc makes a very solid fist of finding the man behind the Little Tramp
Even though, amid all the imaginatively used archive footage, animated sepia photography and old interviews, co-directors Peter Middleton and James Spinney never quite locate the private essence of the man, no one else does either: even his children, several of whom are interviewed here, recall being kept at arm’s length from a distant patriarch. And maybe, their vibrant doc hints, Charlie Chaplin lost himself a little along the way too.
In UK cinemas and on demand Feb 18.