Tuesday, December 7, 2010

There's something inherently disappointing about success

No 481 – Topsy Turvy
Director – Mike Leigh

Well... I do love a good Victorian romp, and the world of Gilbert and Sullivan is surely (by its very nature) as rompy as you can get. Indeed, it took me roughly 45 seconds to fall in love with Allan Corduner's Sir Arthur Sullivan. Consumption riddled and dying but full of life and joy. He encaptures that almost mythical side to the period. The idealised view which is pushed to the 9th degree by things like Moulin Rouge!

I also liked the great prescriptions he gets for his consumption.... Get yourself some Brandy Mr Sullivan. Get yourself to the South of France Mr Sullivan. Bloody marvellous. Far better than mere penicillin.

I don't know how correct the film is but I hope it is true – Sullivan's reckless fun loving attitude marks him out as almost a rock star. Especially when you compare him with the incredibly stiff and well... Victorian... Gilbert (he is very much about what is proper and what is right and decent).

The two bounce off each other really refreshingly. I don't think I've seen Corduner in anything before but Gilbert is played by the legend that is Jim Broadbent.... meaning that a deliberately emotionless (besides anger) figure can become a rich and deep character. It also ripples out in his family. One of the final speeches in the film is Gilbert's wife explaining her idea for an opera. In there are roughly 8,000 hints of how repressed and depressed she is. How she clearly yearns for affection from her Stiff-upper-lip husband.

This ingrained repressions makes the expressiveness of Broadbent all the more important... There is a wonderful moment where Gilbert has the idea of The Mikado. A close up on his frowning face as very slowly you see the seeds of an idea plant a twinkle in his eye and his moustache curls up to indicate a smile beneath. It is a glorious moment. It shows Broadbent off as the bloody hero that he is.

The film is an obvious love letter to Gilbert and Sullivan, the long cuts to songs (seemingly all performed by the cast) show that, and reminded me that I really haven't seen enough Gilbert and Sullivan performances - they were geniuses too, lively music and inspired lyrics. However, they have managed to get some brilliant people to perform in these plays and there are a few people I want to point out.

Firstly....

Timothy Spall – There is a bit of me that is sad that in recent times Hollywood (certainly mainstream Kid's Hollywood) has typecast Spall as the snivelling, slimy bad guy. See Harry Potter or Enchanted for examples. Whilst he does play the role well, it is much more exciting seeing him play the plummy luvvie. His role in this, and his backstage antics are on of the real highlights in a film that's pretty chock full of good bits. Likewise Shirley Henderson who's sultry wine swilling leading lady means I'm finally able to accept her beyond Moaning Myrtle and that God-awful role she played in Dr Who – Even Trainspotting didn't manage that.

And then we had someone who I knew would be excellent as soon as I saw his name in the opening credits. Andy Serkis. I'm a shameless Serkis fan. I think he steals every scene he is in and constantly gives cracking performances. Here is no difference. I loved his little role as the choreographer – and loved the fact that he was never still. Clucking and strutting like a Victorian Mick Jagger.

The film triumphs in the fantastic cast Leigh has put together and in the witty words they speak – considering the constraints of period and of historical accuracy, I'm curious as to how improvised this film is, or whether it was a bit more tightly scripted.

There are a few awkward racial moments, but then this is a film about we Brits discovering Japanese culture – at a time when Japan was so remote (and shut off from the Western world) it was as mysterious as fairy tales. So whilst they are at times uncomfortable (and at other times uncomfortably amusing) they at least never feel excessive.


All in all it is a joyous film – mixing the constraints of etiquette in Victorian Society with the giddy thrill of early musical theatre.

It is a proper smile inducing little number – and shows that Mike Leigh can make gloriously happy films if he wants.