Greetings, my fellow port-swillers!

As promised below, last evening ol’ Robbo ran off the 1999 movie Topsy-Turvy.   I had not seen it before, and I must say that the Mothe’s recommendation was perfectly justified:  I’ve always liked movies about the Theatre (everything from The Dresser to Noises Off!);  The film manages to portray Victorian London with a bare minimum of post-modernist snark; the score is, of course, all G&S; and the star of the show is Jim Broadbent.  I mean, Jim Broadbent! Say no more!

And most importantly, the movie presents the works of Gilbert and Sullivan the way they ought to be presented, namely straight.  These days, one can never (well, hardly ever) find a production in which the director is able to resist the urge to camp it up.  (The last production of Pirates I saw featured rubber chickens.)  This kind of archness is preposterous, presumptuous and puerile and does absolutely nothing to bring out the true humor and beauty of the pieces.  Mr. Gilbert was far funnier than you, I or any community-theatre tyro will ever be.  Best leave things up to him.

As to historickal accuracy, I am not really in a position to offer any intelligent observation.  The basic plot of the story is that Sullivan, after years of success working with Gilbert, has become burned out on Doyle-Carte productions and wants to write more serious musick.  He therefore goes off, leaving the company in the lurch.  Eventually, he agrees to come back if Gilbert can come up with Something Fresh by way of story line.  Then one day Gilbert, poking about a Japanese Exhibition, suddenly gets an inspiration.  The result is The Mikado.  Sullivan is delighted, gets back into the swing of things and all’s well that ends well.   I know that Sullivan spent a good bit of his professional career fretting about not being taken seriously, but I simply don’t know the details, or even if it came to the crisis portrayed in the movie.  Sullivan eventually did write one serious opera, but I’ve never heard it and really have no interest in so doing.  (BTW, Did you know that Sullivan also wrote “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “Rock of Ages”?)

I suppose my only criticism of the movie, and this may just be my fault in viewing it after a fairly heavy din-dins, is that I thought there ought to have been more explanation as to why Gilbert’s Mikado proposal changed Sullivan’s mind.  Was it the mere exoticism of the subject matter?  Was it an opportunity to explore new musickal paths heretofore not open? Was it something particular about Gilbert’s treatment of plot and characters?  Was it a combination?  Was it something else?  I just didn’t quite get the sense that the motivations behind Sullivan’s creative renaissance, which was really the climax of the story, were as fully aired as they might have been.

Oh, and one other thing struck me as odd in the film.  The producers felt it necessary to insert a screen caption explaining the fate of “Chinese” Gordon at Khartoum in 1885 just before a scene in which some of the theatre troupe are gossiping about it over oysters and stout.  (I thought this scene one of the few snarky bits in the film, only the snark was aimed not at Victorian “prudery” but instead at the British Imperial mindset.)  It’s a sad commentary on the state of modern “education” that such a footnote would be felt necessary.  On the other hand, as the disaster at Khartoum plays no direct bearing on the plot of the movie, it seems to me that the caption could have been skipped.  Inserting it gave an exaggerated weight to an otherwise throwaway line.

But never mind.  The singing and acting were wonderful across the board.  The stages and costumes were terrific.  And the story was funny, intelligent and sympathetic.  If you have even a passing interest in Gilbert & Sullivan, you’ll enjoy this movie.

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