At first glance, a musical period comedy-drama about Gilbert and Sullivan seems an odd fit for British filmmaker Mike Leigh, who made his name with searing, intense contemporary dramas such as Secrets and Lies and Career G... more »irls. What could the Victorian world of two composers (of "light opera," no less) have to offer a filmmaker who specializes in the world of modern-day middle class England? Plenty, as it turns out. A wonderful meditation on the creation of art, Topsy-Turvy catches Gilbert and Sullivan at a crossroads in their illustrious careers. Having scored numerous hits (like The Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore), they've reached a creative dry spot with their latest, Princess Ida. Composer Sullivan (Allan Corduner) despairs of ever being taken seriously, and vows to write a "serious" piece, much to the consternation of librettist Gilbert (Jim Broadbent), who's flummoxed and unyielding when asked to change another of his whimsical, "topsy-turvy" scenarios. All seems lost when, thanks to his wife's insistence, Gilbert attends a Japanese exposition in London, and faster than you can say "Three little maids from school are we," inspiration strikes. The rest, as they say, is history, but Leigh re-creates the creative process with meticulous and loving care, from the writing of The Mikado to its staging (wherein Gilbert acts as director), costuming, orchestration, rehearsal, and ultimate premiere. Some may balk at the running time of the film (almost three hours), but it's a journey well worth taking, down to the precise details of late-19th-century London. Still, you'll know you're in Mike Leigh territory, with his precise characterizations and a heartfelt, melancholy ending. And no one has a way with actors like Leigh. This peerless ensemble, headed up by Broadbent in an Oscar-worthy performance, inhabits their characters like a second skin, and it's wonderful to see an authentic-feeling period drama in which the actors resemble real people and you don't expect someone glamorous like Helena Bonham Carter or Rupert Everett to pop up. Gilbert and Sullivan aficionados will revel in the reenactments of The Mikado (newcomers will likely be won over, too). All in all, a breathtaking film. --Mark Englehart« less
Maureen M. from LEWISVILLE, TX Reviewed on 1/19/2010...
Outstanding, but you need to enjoy Gilbert and Sullivan!
0 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
Ken D. (SnowKen) from LITTLETON, CO Reviewed on 9/13/2009...
My wife loves this film, and watches it semi-frequently. Creative, well acted, intriguing story line.
1 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
Best biopic ever! Not just for Gilbert & Sullivan fans!
bensmomma | Ann Arbor, Michigan | 11/08/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Topsy-Turvy is the story of the creation of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, "The Mikado." It contains not just the story of the musical's creation but many scenes from Mikado and other G&S musicals. Long-time "G&S" (Gilbert & Sullivan) fans probably found this movie a long time ago. I am one of them, so first I'll say that I found the performance of the G&S material in this movie absolutely superb. I've never seen a Mikado as genuinely funning and eccentric as Tim Sprall's, or a Yum-Yum as winsomely self-centered as Shirley Hendersen's Leonora Branham.Viewers who find musicals simplistic or shallow or generally silly should make an exception in the case of Topsy-Turvy. It is none of those things. In true Mike Leigh fashion, the actors inhabit their characters like second skin. No one is simple or shallow. Nor does Leigh avoid the seamier side of London theatrical life. I particularly liked Jim Broadbent's bitterly comic and misanthropic Gilbert, Martin Savage as the opium-addicted George Grossmith (the 'patter baritone' who rips through Gilbert's rapidfire lyrics like a rap song), and Lucy Manville as Gilbert's long-suffering wife.Finally, the film is visually beautiful and detailed; wonderful costumes, lighting, and sets that seem faultless in their historical detail.One of the best, if not the best, bio-pic ever made."
Joe Libby | 05/17/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you don't like Gilbert and Sullivan, you should avoid TOPSY-TURVY; clocking in at about two hours and forty minutes, it would probably be a torturous experience. For everyone else, however, I give this movie my highest recommendation. TOPSY-TURVY concerns itself with a period during which Gilbert and Sullivan find themselves at a professional impasse. Their inability to agree on a suitable story for collaboration eventually leads to their most popular operetta, "The Mikado." Director Mike Leigh's object, however, is to tell the story behind the story; he lets us peek into the professional and personal lives of Sullivan, Gilbert, and the D'Oyly Carte Company. Jim Broadbent anchors the film with his tremendous performance as W.S. Gilbert; he is infuriating and arrogant, yet plagued with self doubt and even occasionally gentle. Alan Cordeneur does well as Arthur Sullivan, yet his performance is less involving and we don't get to know him that well; but perhaps that was the point. Leslie Manville is quite touching as Gilbert's long suffering wife, Kitty. The D'Oyly Carte performers are played with just the right combination of humanity and theatricality; in particular, Timothy Spall as Richard Temple (bewildered and hurt that his role as the Mikado might be whittled to almost nothing!) and Dorothy Atkinson, charming and alluring as Jessie Bond, are outstanding. There are generous musical excerpts from "The Mikado," "The Sorcerer," "Princess Ida," and Sullivan's non-Gilbert music. There is so much more worth praising in TOPSY-TURVY, but instead I'll just close by saying: DON'T MISS IT!"
An improbably great film from an unexpected source
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 11/23/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This delightful retelling of the creation of the Gilbert and Sullivan masterpiece THE MIKADO is as improbable a product from the hands of Mike Leigh as a Hollywood shoot-'em-up would have been from Jane Campion. Leigh had made his reputation by crafting some amazingly intimate films about human relationships in films like the astonishing SECRETS AND LIES (which features in Brenda Blethyn one of the two or three greatest performances ever by an actress in any film). The idea of doing a historical recreation of Gilbert and Sullivan is not one that easily attaches itself to Leigh. Nonetheless, this film is in every sense masterful and entertaining.With a director of the ability of Mike Leigh, it is no surprise that the film is superb as a production. Everything is superb about the film. The art direction and set design is extraordinary, and I can't imagine a historical film more compellingly done than this one. Moreover, the musical numbers are exquisitely done, and always convincing. In the end, however, as superb as the direction and the design are, what drives this movie are the performers. This is a very fine ensemble cast, many of them Mike Leigh regulars, like the very fine Timothy Sprall, who winningly plays Richard Temple. Jim Broadbent has since the release of TOPSY-TURVY managed to establish himself as a superstar character actor through films like MOULIN ROUGE, NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, and IRIS (for which he won an Oscar). I always marvel at his range and his ability to sell any role. He is stellar here as the Stoic and emotionally conservative W. S. Gilbert. I really enjoyed Shirley Henderson (who I recently saw in a great Danish/Scottish film WILBUR WANTS TO KILL HIMSELF, which I hope will get released in the United States) in her smallish role as a musical performer who is struggling with problems of addiction (like many others in the D'Oyly Carte company). The relatively unknown (at least in the U.S.) Martin Savage stands out as George Grossmith, the person who not only starred in the Gilbert and Sullivan musicals, but was the foremost musical stage performer of the late Victorian age, sort of London's answer to Mandy Patinkin a hundred years later. Grossmith also wrote a highly popular book with his brother Weedon, THE DIARY OF A NOBODY. I could go on and on about other performers who stood out in small but impressive roles, such as Lesley Manville, who has a heartbreaking scene as Gilbert's unfulfilled and quietly unhappy wife.It has to be emphasized that this is not a movie only for fans of light opera. It really is irrelevant whether someone does or does not enjoy Gilbert and Sullivan. This is primarily a movie about people, about show business, and about how a group of flawed and merely human beings can collaborate in producing something phenomenal. This is not a niche film. It is a film to be enjoyed by anyone who enjoyed movies at their best."
Witty. Entertaining. A Bit Challenging.
RWM | Rural New York | 04/17/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It took me two viewings to understand what was going on in the first half of the film -- a dark and confusing period in the lives of the two artists. On a second viewing the whole thing came together for me.I found the rendering of the historical period to be splendid --as convincing as Rossellini's "Louis XIV".The actual creation and staging of the Mikado (in the second half of the film) is likely to delight anyone familiar with the works of G&S -- or anyone who has ever struggled to put together an effective theatrical production. The poignant illnesses and psychic suffering of the Savoy actors -- as well as the suffering of G&S -- set one up for goosebumps when they soared triumphantly into song on opening night. The language and witty word play in many scenes were like the first stages of a multi-stage rocket that ultimately hurled Gilbert's wonderfully silly and witty libretto into artistic orbit. (Forgive me. I am an intellectual chap.)"
One of the most enjoyable films of the '90s
Joe Libby | 09/05/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It's understandable that a lot of people have a strong resistance to this movie. It's long, it's full of details about theatrical life in the late 19th century London, it has (and this is certainlly the biggest obstacle for most) a lot of musical scenes. But it's also a pity that prejudice might be alienating a lot of people to a film that, for all its apparent dificulties, is one of the most enjoyables of the last decade. In fact, I can't think of another movie last year with so many memorable scenes. Sure, Gilbert and Sullivan music won't do for every taste. (I never thought I would enjoy it.) But Topsy-Turvy can certainly win a lot of fans for them. And deservedly, since Gilbert's librettos, despite the ridiculous plots, are some of the wittiest in musical theatre, and Sullivan's music is full of inventive touches. Most of all, Topsy-Turvy is a wonderfully funny and touching description of the process of creating art. All the actors are excellent, especially Jim Broadbent as Gilbert and Lesley Manville as his wife, both in a devastatingly beautiful and melancholic end scene. And Mike Leigh's direction is the best of 1999."