Film Commentary [--00]
Historical Theatrical - - Topsy Turvy
Genre: Historical/comedy/musical
Grade = A



Set in 1889 London, Britain's most successful playwrights Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) and Sullivan (Allan Corduner) have seemed to run out of steam. They have been made rich and famous as well as knighted for such plays as The Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore and Princess Ida. However, Sullivan wishes to stop wasting his musical talent on these humorous operettas and write something substantial. "I'm growing tired of these soufflés with Gilbert and his topsy-turvvydom." It also seems that Gilbert is simply recycling the same old plot devices. The first half of the film deals with this as the two lead to an impasse and it looks like they may split up.

Then Gilbert's wife Kitty drags him to an exhibit of a Japanese village filled with real Japanese with kimonos, kendo matches, calligraphers and Japanese waitresses at the café. He likes it so much he buys an ornate katana and has it hung over his door. It promptly falls on his head, giving him the idea for a new operetta. Thus the film begins to tell the story of the creation of one of their most popular productions - The Mikado, and where the movie really takes off.

The Mikado is set in Japan and Gilbert wants the play to be as authentic as possible, down to the authenticity of how the actors will walk and what they will wear. The actresses object when they are told that they will not be allowed to wear their corsets with their kimonos. One of the actors also objects to wearing such a short hoari (short kimono) as he will be embarrassed that his wife will see his legs. He also wants to wear his corset.

As a rule I absolutely detest musicals. Other than their films being sappy and juvenile, it's the reason I won't watch Disney animated movies. This film was filled with musical numbers taken from Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas. However, I loved this movie. Gilbert and Sullivan were the most popular playwrights of the nineteenth century for a reason, they were good. Gilbert's wit with lyrics makes the songs entertaining, even for me.

Written and directed by Britain Mike Leigh, whose past films include Life is Sweet and Secrets and Lies, the film has a screenplay filled with fully developed characters, witty dialog, and beautifully staged productions. Apparently other people thought so to as it won the Academy Award for best original screenplay (I still think is should have gone to Being John Malkovik). The wardrobe was incredibly authentic to the time as well as producing a wide variety in both men's and women's fashion and in their different social classes. The set design was just as authentic and you could actually believe you were seeing what 1889 London and its people really looked like, even down to Sullivan's outlandish sideburns winning the Academy Award for best costume design.

All the performances were outstanding, especially that of Jim Broadbent as Gilbert with his razor wit. Allan Corduner was successful as Sullivan's counter to Gilbert's brashness. Surrounding Gilbert and Sullivan was a fascinating group of actors, actresses, relatives and stage production people. All of whom were well developed characters with quality performances that extruded British eccentricities that made them far more interesting than any other set of characters from any other film of 1999, especially Charles Simon as Gilbert's dottering father. One of the best films of the year.


Here is an example of Gilbert's wit with lyrics from the If You Give Me Your Attention song from Princess Ida

If you give me your attention, I will tell you what I am:
I''m a genuine philanthropist —— all other kinds are sham.
Each little fault of temper and each social defect
In my erring fellow-creatures, I endeavour to correct.
To all their little weaknesses I open people''s eyes;
And little plans to snub the self-sufficient I devise;
I love my fellow-creatures —— I do all the good I can ——
Yet everybody says I''m such a disagreeable man!
And I can''t think why!

To compliments inflated I''ve a withering reply,
And vanity I always do my best to mortify;
A charitable action I can skillfully dissect;
And interested motives I''m delighted to detect;
I know everybody''s income and what everybody earns;
And I carefully compare it with the income-tax returns;
But to benefit humanity, however much I plan,
Yet everybody says I''m such a disagreeable man!
And I can''t think why!

I''m sure I''m no ascetic; I''m as pleasant as can be;
You''ll always find me ready with a crushing repartee.
I''ve an irritating chuckle, I''ve a celebrated sneer,
I''ve an entertaining snigger, I''ve a fascinating leer.
To everybody''s prejudice I know a thing or two;
I can tell a woman''s age in half a minute —— and I do.
Yet everybody says I''m such a disagreeable man!
And I can''t think why!


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