Friday, September 4, 2009

#481: Topsy-Turvy (1999)

Director: Mike Leigh
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Allan Corduner, Lesley Manville, ...

The production of an operetta by Gilbert & Sullivan is thoroughly explored in Topsy-Turvy. Based on true events leading to the original production of The Mikado, Leigh presents to us the hesitancy on Sullivan's part to compose to the repetitive and frivolous themes which continuously flow from Gilbert's hand. Refusing to take part in another operetta featuring a magical dilemma, such as the pair's unsuccessful run of Princess Ida, Sullivan forces Gilbert to find inspiration elsewhere. He finds it at a London exhibition on Japanese culture.

Through the film, we encounter all the problems that are most certainly to have transpired in 1885. The introduction of such an exotic culture to the haughty Victorian era must truly have been a shock. In one scene, the cast complained of the vulgar costuming, including the forced abandonment of corsets - for women and men alike! We also are presented the concerns of the production's management for the cast's health, the audience's perception of such a change of scene (literally), and the authenticity of the Japanese culture represented in the performance.

The New York Times review of the film was extremely complimentary, comparing the structure of the film to Shakespeare in Love (which, unfortunately, didn't make the cut to be on the Empire 500). I must disagree on this occasion. Of course, the basic similarity is the presentation of a performance within the film and it's breakdown of parts to be brought together for the final product. Aside from this, though, I found the film quite different. There isn't much of an arc throughout the film to tie everything together aside from The Mikado itself. Entertaining as it is, it is difficult to pinpoint what type of relationships the many characters have amongst each other.

Aside from this one criticism, the film is an enormous achievement. All the actors performed especially well, and the amount of effort that must have been made to not only perform as the actors but in The Mikado itself is astounding. The musical department was directed phenomenally by Gary Yershon (composer of the score for Happy-Go-Lucky), and the costumes were authentic and beautiful.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Most modern recordings and performances of the Mikado's solo, "A More Humane Mikado" feature a bloodthirsty laugh between the verses. This touch was added by Darrel Fancourt, a D'Oyly Carte performer from 1920-1953, and has been copied ever since - which is why the laugh is not performed by Richard Temple (Timothy Spall).
  • When Richard Temple performs "A More Humane Mikado" during the dress rehearsal, the script cuts out the third verse. Partly this may have been because of time considerations, but also because the original verse used the word "nigger" and was not changed until the 1940s.
  • In his dressing room after the performance of "Princess Ida" in which he strains his voice, Richard Temple recites some dialog from "H.M.S. Pinafore". Temple created the character of Dick Deadeye in "H.M.S. Pinafore", and sang it during the initial 1878 run and several subsequent revivals.
  • Similarly, in the scene where Leonora Braham and Jessie Bond sing a short excerpt in their dressing room (ending in "he was a little boy") during an interlude of "The Sorceror", the song is from the Gilbert & Sullivan opera "Patience" ("Long years ago..."), sung by the characters Patience and Angela, which Leonora Braham and Jessie Bond had performed in the initial 1880 Opera Comique production.


  1. Richie,

    I read this all the time. I just thought I should let you know. Keep rocking out.


  2. Aw hey thanks! I like knowing that people are reading :)