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Topsy-Turvy (1999)

  Directed by: Mike Leigh
Written by: Mike Leigh
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Allan Corduner
Links: Topsy-Turvy on the IMDb, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD, Buy the Soundtrack
Genre: Based on True Story

This movie gets: 7.00 (1 rating)
nofreelist.com Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

"It may bore the pants off you, depending..." - a review by pearly

In the late 1800s, two men ruled the English theatre scene: William S. Gilbert (played by Jim Broadbent) and Arthur Sullivan (played by Allan Corduner). Having already had huge successes with operas such as HMS Pinafore and The Sorcerer, the two men reach a standstill in their career when their new production, Princess Ida, is panned, with even veteran actor and longtime cohort Richard Temple (Timothy Spall) indicating his opinion that it is amongst the pair's weakest work.

When Sullivan falls ill and heads to France to recuperate, the pair are given time apart. For Gilbert, this time has little effect; upon Sullivan's return, Gilbert presents his latest work to Sullivan; an opera along the same vein as all of their other operas. On the other hand, Sullivan has moved on. He is tired of doing the same thing, and wants to work on his grand opera. He tells Gilbert in no uncertain terms what he thinks of his latest effort, and, although still contracted to the Savoy Theatre, the pair cannot work together.

With time to spare, Gilbert is coaxed out to a Japanese exhibition by his wife, an outing which he is loathe to attend. But whilst there, he becomes captivated by the beauty and mystery of this Japanese world, and he is inspired to write. The result is The Mikado, and Sullivan is once again enthused by working with Gilbert.

It's a fascinating story of the entertainment world before the world of film existed. And Topsy-Turvy is a colourful biography of these events. Most everyone has experienced some Gilbert and Sullivan in their lives: I went to see The Mikado with my grandparents at a young age, and have never forgotten the luxurious exuberance of the evening, even if I was a little too young to fully appreciate it. And even if you haven't seen one of their operas, you're bound to know some of the songs from The Simpsons. God bless you, Simpson family.

The style of Topsy-Turvy isn't exactly my thing, and at two and a half hours, it's way too long to completely hold my attention throughout. I personally could have done with less performances, and more of the story in between, but I'm sure that huge fans of G&S would not agree with me on that point. In a way, the addition of the songs makes it a biography not just of the men, but also of their work, which is great, but putting it all together adds up to too much opera for this little black duck.

The performances are brilliant: Broadbent, who I have been a fan of for some time now, is larger than life with his now-famous moustache, his slightly offensive (and well suited to the time, I'm sure) treatment of his muse for The Mikado, a girl who he refers to as "Sixpence Please", based on the only English she ever spoke to him, and his unwitting reveal of his character's weaknesses when he refuses to go to the dentist. Corduner is slightly smaller of a personality, but works well off Broadbent, in some ways being the good cop to his bad cop. Spall is worth mentioning too: that guy transforms himself every time I see him on screen, and he's a top example of an actor who isn't good-looking in the traditional sense, but is a million times more watchable than many of the actors out there who are hot.

I enjoyed Topsy-Turvy to a point, but it took me an awfully long time to gather up the interest to watch it (it had been sitting on my to-watch pile for six months or more). It's not something I would rush out to watch again; I've seen it now, and that's about all I'll get out of it; but it was interesting to learn more about G&S and to see some of the songs performed. Solid.

pearly gives this movie 7 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 1 Oct 2004

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