The musical styling of Gilbert and Sullivan is not to everyone’s taste. Some flap about their quaintness or their racism. I don’t like these positions, as they denote snobbery or ignorance to the comedy opera. For many their MIKADO is the towering success of their work. Some remember the words from ‘Three Little Maids’ as a reflex. They are sung maybe from this film or often more from Frasier or the Simpsons.

Playwright W. S. Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) is trying to create a new comedy opera after a series of weak entries following a major success. His latest Princess Ida, is average and his  Sir Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner), is bored. He has gone on holiday to Continental Europe due to illness and on return, any idea pitched to him is just a rehash of a rehash. Gilbert and his wife visit a popular exhibition of Japanese arts and crafts in Knightsbridge and the MIKADO is born.

TOPSY TURVY looks at the magic of creativity and the oppression of it. From its glint of creation in the mind of its creator. To the building of the work. Its not a musical but uses music as a counterpoint to craft and realisation. Director Leigh was and is still, interested in real. Realism weighs his work. Forget the dripping sweat, heat haze of performance or the opiate dens.  That is an aside to what I mean by realism here.

The realism here is about an event and it is done with warts, smoke and all. Here TOPSY TURVY is factually based. To what facts can be displayed onscreen. People we see are  derived from real people.  They inspired and built the characters we are familiar with from the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. I cant say that its a smooth retelling or documentation of the creation of the work. It is a film which is about character and it lacks some of the fluidity and personality of others. It is however a wondrously clever creation of the moment.


The colours of the sets have really been emboldened by the HD. I cant say more than that. The DVD had some lovely textures but the primary colours were blown and it made the whole thing feel unpleasant to watch on a large screen and suited a smaller screen. Here it has been fixed to let you watch it on the big screen.


Put simply, the best thing here is the Short film  A Sense of History. Funny, disturbing and a brash satirical swipe at landed gentry. The other things have been seen before. Bar of course the piece between Leigh and the film’s musical director, Gary Yershon is new. Noting the use of staging and acting. Its nice enough but not outstanding.

Special Features:

  • Director-approved digital transfer, supervised by cinematographer Dick Pope, with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentary featuring director Mike Leigh
  • New video conversation between Leigh and the film’s musical director, Gary Yershon
  • A Sense of History, Leigh’s 1992 short film written by and starring actor Jim Broadbent
  • Deleted scenes
  • Featurette from 1999 including interviews with Leigh, stars Broadbent and Allan Corduner, and other cast members
  • Theatrical trailer and TV spots
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Amy Taubin

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