Topsy-Turvy (1999) Poster


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fascinating, funny, and true as gold
markt-914 September 2000
I loved this film, yet I have a hard time understanding many of the comments other viewers have made. I never liked G&S all that much, thought they were rather light weight stuff. Never liked the late Victorian era much either. Kind of a dull time, I thought. Musicals are definitely not my thing.

Yet this movie struck me as one of the greatest I have ever seen, right up there with Greed and Citizen Kane and all that lot. I suppose it's because I like period pieces, and I think it's damned difficult for anyone to draw an accurate -- or even an evocative -- picture of any time that is not their own. This movie does that, and it never even appears to strain so much as a single hair to do so.

In the end, this movie is deeply *humane.* Like many another Mike Leigh epic, the characters here are drawn in the round, flaws and talents all on view, just like real human beings. And he likes them all, even the stinkers. Likes them well enough to paint them as they are, not as cardboard figures.

If you like your characters pre-digested and redrawn larger than life and your plots full of twists and turns, you might find this movie tame. If you like people, you'll find it fascinating, funny, and true as gold.

And why do I rate it so highly? Because it hangs together so perfectly, all of a piece. It's luscious to look at, delightful to hear, and sweet as candy without ever once becoming saccharine or cheap.

Some reviewers complained you had to "already know" something to enjoy this movie: the music, the time, the language, the whatever. I say, all you have to know is human beings. If you find them interesting, you'll love this movie.
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wonderful entertainment
Buddy-518 July 2000
Mike Leigh's gloriously entertaining film, `Topsy-Turvy,' offers a wise and witty slice of musical theater history. Set in 1880's London, the movie chronicles the extraordinary personal and professional relationship between two giants of the 19th Century entertainment world, lyricist `Willie' Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan. The screenplay, wisely, chooses to pick up the tale not at the very beginning of their collaborative career - tracing its rise and fall as many biopics would do - but rather at the point where the team has already garnered international fame and success but seems of late to be experiencing a bit of creative stagnation. Sullivan, tiring of the seemingly trivial nature of the librettos they've been producing, wants to break away and embark on his own to produce a work of more `weighty' merit. Gilbert, on the other hand, delights in his success and, although bothered by comments in the press that his work has begun to repeat itself, initially resists Sullivan's plea that they abandon their hitherto winning formula.

Thus, the conflict between the two men of creative genius plays itself out against the fascinating backdrop of a deliciously recreated vision of the theatrical world of a hundred-odd years ago. Just as important to the film as the two main characters is the rich assortment of secondary players - theater proprietors, company actors, wives, lovers and parents - who swirl around the principals and provide a colorful tapestry to match the exquisite art direction and costuming that adorn the film. In addition, Leigh incorporates clever references to some of the technological marvels just making their appearance at the time: telephones, reservoir pens and luxury hotels with baths for every room!

Leigh's pacing is admirably unhurried and relaxed. So rich is the detail of his vision that fully thirty-five minutes elapse before the two lead characters even have their first scene together. In addition, the inspiration for `The Mikado' - ostensibly the centerpiece of the film's plot - doesn't strike Gilbert until well into the second hour. Yet, the film never falters in interest, least of all when Leigh devotes long stretches of footage to showing us the actors rehearsing their parts or having us eavesdrop on some behind-the-scenes salary negotiations or discussions of artistic differences. This is the real triumph of the film: Leigh opens up a world to us by letting us see the fascinating nuts-and-bolts aspects of the creative process to which we, as members of a theatre audience, are rarely privy. He also is not afraid to linger long over many a beautiful reproduction of the musical pieces themselves. Leigh can count his film a success in that it makes us want to rush out and catch a performance of one of these operettas ourselves.

The film would not be the splendid success it is were it not for the dazzling performances of its amazingly large cast. Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner are perfection as the good-natured but often antagonistic partners, never playing the humor too broadly or violating the spirit of elite British gentility even in their most conflict-laden moments.

Indeed, it is this very quality of quiet subtlety that permeates every aspect of `Topsy-Turvy' and that makes it the wholly satisfying and entertaining film it is.
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I've no more shots in my locker
ahab101322 October 2002
Simply put, a brilliant film.

Topsy Turvy captures Gilbert and Sullivan in the midst of a turbulent period in their partnership. Desperate to be taken more seriously as a composer, Arthur Sullivan attempts to renege on the Gilbert and Sullivan contract with the Savoy Theatre. While his partner William S Gilbert struggles to come up with something new to write about. Each man, in a sense, is longing for individual acclaim but they are trapped in an entity neither one can shake. The fame of their collective energies has taken on a life of its own and the theater crowds want more.

The film is mostly the story of a theater production of the Mikado, one of Gilbert and Sullivan's most famous operas. Director Mike Leigh, notorious for writing on the go, has structured a play within a play to a great delight. Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner are brilliant as Gilbert and Sullivan, and Tim Spall has a wonderful turn as one of the actors, Mr. Temple.

Their is more here than just two playwrights. The entire cast is seen as more than just pieces of a production. From choristers to administrative personnel, Topsy Turvy is alive with characters. One of the best is Gilbert's long-suffering wife Kitty. Bereft of children and saddled with a husband who doesn't show outward affection, Kitty (Lucy) could be a two dimensional afterthought. However, her pain at being childless is wonderfully played by Lesley Manville. It is clear they love each other but neither is capable of articulating that love, very odd for a man who writes for a living.

Filled with humor and grace, Topsy Turvy is one of the best films about acting and a beautiful embrace of all things theatrical.
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Victorian England refracted through Gilbert & Sullivan
Tom-20717 March 2000
I was introduced to Gilbert & Sullivan in my very early teens under the auspices of the parents of one of my friends. They took us to Falmouth on Cape Cod to a place called Highfield, the summer home of the Oberlin College Players. They specialized in G&S and other light operettas.

I learned to appreciate G&S, but I never became a fanatical devotee, even with the historical context patiently explained to me by my friend's mom. (It was similar with Shakespeare. The language could be a barrier rather than a gateway.)

The audience in the theater where I saw Topsy-Turvy was filled with devotees. You could hear their delight as they viewed the actual performances of Gilbert & Sullivan's work in the film. The director, Mike Leigh, through skillful editing and camera work, does an excellent job of photographing a stage presentation, certainly one of the best I've ever seen on film. He uses closeups, and though the actors are using an exaggerated, theatrical style, somehow the G&S material has never been clearer to me; and I've seen at least a dozen G&S performances, including two D'Oyle Carte productions (Pirates and The Mikado), the present-day descendant company of the Savoy Theater depicted in the film. People who have never seen G&S before will appreciate their work here.

Most of all, the film is very much about the highly contrasting personalities of William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan, the former emotionally restrained, the latter a hedonist. Leigh allows us to get to know them quite well and a host of other characters too, though G&S are first among equals in this excellent, ensemble cast. Among the supporting players, I found Shirley Henderson to be increasingly interesting as the film progressed, and I felt rewarded when she was the central character in the last two scenes of the film.

The period settings, manners, and speech are very accurate and detailed. As presented here, the Victorian era seems physically stifling, with people leading their lives in the close quarters of dressing rooms, offices, restaurants, living rooms, and bedrooms. Even more stifling is the emotional inhibition masked by correctly blustery forthrightness. Toward the end of the film, there's a revealing and poignant scene between Gilbert and his wife which makes this all very clear, and what also becomes clear is how important theatrical presentations were to people then as a means of expressing themselves in a culture which sanctioned few quarters to do so. It's one of the best examples of Mike Leigh's direction.

The G&S operettas were, of course, a commentary on Victorian times. In the film, you can see why they were so wildly popular. In that period, I think so many people were so restrained and distant from their own feelings that even the, to us, mannered and wordy G&S operettas were a breath of fresh air in Victorian England. The few occasions when Leigh breaks out of consistently claustrophobic medium shots and closeups are when he gives us a wide view of the full, theatrical stage.

Topsy-Turvy is about how Gilbert and Sullivan refracted Victorian England through a proscenium arch. Mike Leigh refracts it again through the camera lens in a way that allows us to see ourselves in our times by looking at G&S and their operettas in theirs. This is a long film (over two and one half hours), and given the subject matter, not to everyone's interest, though it's far more than the specifics of the period and the material. I found it to be my favorite film of the year thus far, and I highly recommend it.
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For the Love of the Theatre
Tallgent19 March 2000
George Martin once talked about he and John Lennon once having a drink in a British pub. One of the regulars went over to the jukebox and selected "Yesterday." Lennon sighed, turned to Martin and said, "Don't suppose anyone's going to put in 'I am the Walrus?'" Martin went on to suggest that as frustrated as Lennon was of Paul McCartney's "Granny Music," he also couldn't deny McCartney's talent and the ease with which he came up with unforgettable melodies.

One senses the same kind of rivalry between Arthur Sullivan and William Gilbert in Mike Leigh's "Topsy-Turvy." Gilbert and Sullivan were both famous for their hilarious musical comedies in the mid to late 1880s, especially their early hits "H.M.S. Pinafore" and "The Pirates of Penzance." But the film takes place later in their career and things are not boding well for the duo. Sullivan (Alan Corduner) is growing increasingly frustrated with his collaborations with Gilbert, because he feels he is not growing as a composer. "I'm growing tired of these soufflés with Gilbert and his topsy-turvvydom."

Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) is feeling the crunch himself. His latest production with Sullivan has resulted in questions concerning Gilbert's creative spark, as in whether he has one. If that isn't enough, the Savoy Theatre tells the frustrated Sullivan that he and Gilbert are contractually obligated to one more show. Gilbert presents Sullivan with an idea. Sullivan responds that the idea sounds like a remake of an earlier play.

Then inspiration comes from the most unlikely of places. A Japanese Exhibit is being held in London and Gilbert's wife, Kitty (Lesley Manville) forces him to accompany her. Reluctantly Gilbert goes and, reenergized, he picks up a souvenir Samurai sword. He meets with Sullivan again and tells him his idea: "The Mikado." Thus is born Gilbert and Sullivan's last hit play.

The next half of the film deals with the backstage politics and adventures that go with putting on a production. It is here where "Topsy-Turvy" goes into full gear and really begins to shine. Broadbent and Corduner also shine in their respective roles, as well. And it is here where I really paid attention to Leigh's characterizations. The two never had a very friendly relationship and Sullivan was openly bored with Gilbert's silly plays. I always took it for Gilbert being a really witty and good-humored man, and Sullivan being a snob. But Leigh has Sullivan as a fun-loving hedonist and Gilbert being unpersonable and sarcastic. He uses humor as a weapon. The film forced me to look at the two of them in a new light, and more importantly, I bought it.

But Leigh's real achievement is in presenting his supporting cast as three-dimensional characters. There's Richard Temple (Timothy Spall) who plays the Mikado and suffers near-betrayal at the hands of his mentor, Gilbert. Actresses Jessie Bond (Dorothy Atkinson) and Lenora Braham (Shirley Henderson) personify the reluctant acceptance of wearing a kimono with no corset. Leigh brings the same care to this period drama as he has done for his smaller ensemble pieces.

And care is what "Topsy-Turvy" is all about. As much as Sullivan may frown at Gilbert's wit, he still wants to create the best possible product he can. There's a great scene where Gilbert is explaining "The Mikado" to Sullivan and Sullivan is truly enjoying the story. He's got such a look of glee on his face throughout the scene. Corduner does a great job of contrasting his Sullivan with Broadbent's Gilbert, especially in his scenes with the orchestra as he patiently explains the score with his players.

Broadbent, on the other hand, is an absolute joy as Gilbert. Gilbert may not be a likable character, but he knows what he wants and he is good at what he does. He may be short with everyone and unbending, but he gets results.

Leigh shows a clear love for the theatre here, and the details are amazing all the way from the theatre set to the costumes, nothing is out of place. He also keeps the action moving in the film which totals almost three hours but never feels like it. That's very hard to do.

To be honest, I thought Leigh was jumping on the "Shakespeare in Love" bandwagon, but the films couldn't be more different. "Shakespeare in Love" celebrates love burgeoning creativity. "Topsy-Turvy" deals with the love of creativity itself and shows how people of different temperaments and tastes can still get together and produce greatness.

Topsy-Turvy ****
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Positive, glowing recommendation
jkhalsa-126 December 2003
I am a violinist who has done a lot of theater shows and have seen lots of theater rehearsal.

For me this film has everything - the scenery is more lavish and beautiful than I've ever witnessed anywhere. For me, the interest _is_ the behind-the-scenes view of the actors. The fact that Allan Corduner (Sullivan) is actually a musician (not just miming the piano work) is a real plus. The scene of the recital of his "Lost Chord" was a marvelous musical moment. It captured the atmosphere of an old-style home recital, with earnest artists and elegant surroundings. And the rehearsal scene with the trio Grossmith (Koko), Barrington (Poo-bah), and Beauville each singing why they can't chop their own heads off is a marvelous view of what rehearsal can and should be like. Everyone has learned their words but now we're refining the artistry. The director assumes the viewer is well versed and doesn't beat him over the head. I feel honored that I am being treated as an intelligent watcher. When Gilbert says to Beauville, "I've gone to great length to give you triplets..... so let's do it again and let's ....'trip'", and they do, and it really works, I get the feeling that they live in and understand my world. Every moment of the film has for me a beauty.

The snippets of the other G&S operettas are astounding. The wake-up scene in The Sorcerer is probably only a minute long, but each word and glance is well chosen, and everyone is in perfect character. Like the cliché, "Every bride is beautiful.", every man and woman in this cast is beautiful.

Another remarkable moment in the film is Temple's "Mikado Song" when he dances, and the aftermath where Gilbert cuts the number and it then gets reinstated by the chorus men and women cornering Gilbert in the stairwell. My experience is that people in theater really do care for each other and they wish each other well. When someone does something of artistic merit, they know it, and want it to be displayed.

Almost every moment of this film rings true to me as a musician, and I treasure it. I can start this video at any random spot on the tape and find something to enjoy for 10 seconds or for another hour.

Because much of the film centers around Mikado, anyone who has ever worked on Mikado as an actor, crew, or musician will find much to enjoy. For someone who is not at all familiar with that operetta, I could understand them feeling that they can't see the continuity-- because the director has chosen not to repeat things. You will see this part and that part in preliminary stages of rehearsal but not again later, so if you saw the behind the scenes work, you won't see the 'finished product' except in the case of "Three Little Maids."

I was left wishing that this cast actually had created a full length version of Mikado, but alas I don't believe they did; all this work was for the sake of this film and it's not a documentary of an actual living repertory group.
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A Sumptuous Cinematic Treat
Fab4Fan20 February 2000
TOPSY-TURVY, director Leigh's spectacularly entertaining look at the lives and times of the nineteenth-century British duo that gave the world such musical treasures as The Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore. Leigh's film finds G & S in 1884 at a creative impasse following the disappointing reception of their new flop operetta, Princess Ida. Sullivan (Allan Corduner), tired of writing music for the increasingly trite and repetitive librettos of Gilbert (Jim Broadbent), wants to give up their lucrative partnership and write "serious" grand opera. But when an exhibition of Japanese art and culture travelling through London inspires Gilbert to begin writing The Mikado, both men see the opportunity to create something unique and extraordinary. Praise for this stunning film must extend from top to bottom, beginning to end. The music, of course, is wonderful and ever present. The costumes, sets and cinematography are exemplary in their attention to atmosphere and detail. Leigh's script and direction not only bring the period to life, but make it crackle with drama, wit, and social comment. And the performances are fabulous, notably the magnificent Broadbent as mercurial Gilbert; Corduner, warm and charming as the more sweet-natured Sullivan; and Leigh regular Timothy Spall (SECRETS & LIES) as a veteran actor fearful that his big number may be cut. This is quite simply one of the most vastly entertaining, joyous and fascinating films ever made about the creative process. I actually saw it twice within a three-day period and wasn't bored for one second of either viewing!
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Thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying.
lex3211 February 2000
This period film is unique in that the writer/director chose not to invent some contrived plot to push the movie along. It is as if we are simply witness at crucial points during normal goings on in the lives of Gilbert and Sullivan during the late 1800's. I found it fascinating and was not aware of the length (almost 3 hours) during the picture.

If you have ever been in a musical, have a love of theater, or have any interest in the 1800's, you must see this film. From the superb acting, to the set design (amazing accuracy), to the technique - this film is a gem to behold.
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A film of much love and craft
Jake-2213 December 2000
Not being a big fan of opera (of the comedic variety or otherwise), I chose to watch this movie as a period piece, hoping to see a lot of eccentric characters putting on even more eccentric theatre. That was easy, since the trailer for the film points in that direction entirely.

What I didn't expect was a thoroughly entrancing inside view of the Victorian theatre. Not to mention comprehensive. Everyone is covered in this - from the stage boy through the chorus through the leads and producers and assistant directors. The telling of the complex relationships between the directors (Gilbert and Sullivan) and the leads is particularly poignant - whether dealing with the actors' considerable egos or their individual popularity among the chorus, nothing presented doesn't ring true.

I loved everything about this movie. It's a great story, told wonderfully by all involved. It is truly a film of much love and craft.

And I expect I'll be attending the next run of the Mikado next time it comes to town.
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Artfully Constructed and one of the year's best films.
Spamlet21 August 2000
Much has been said here regarding the brilliant costumes, art direction and acting. The one thing I would like to point out is the misconception many have had about the script itself.

Several comments here have claimed that the film is "clunky" in that several scenes apparently added nothing to the film. They also said there was no character development. I think these people need to realize that the depth they seek is contained in the very scenes they wished excised. Which show us all of the different aspects of these characters' lives.

While appearing to be unimportant, empty or simple these many scenes reveal incalculable depth and character insight. The rehearsal scene for just one example, while seeming initially to be a little comedic scene shows us the nature and attitude of both the author and the actors involved in their creative processes.

The performance scenes are also not superfluous as some have wrongly asserted. We can see the characters we have come to know and how they deal onstage with the problems we know they have in their lives: through expressing themselves in their art!!!

In addition the scenes are not arbitrarily strung together but all contain a subtle cause and effect throughline. Sometimes these are reversed as when a cause is revealed only after we have repeatedly seen the effect (as in the revelation of Grossman's illness). Many of the scenes which people have called "tacked on" at the end (like the stunning scene between Gilbert and his wife Kitty) are in fact set up in the earlier parts of the film if you pay close attention and are in actuality a natural progression of these relationships.

Even the very last scene when the leading lady sings is there to show us her identification with the song she is singing and therefore an indirect relationship with her lyricist and composer. This film needs to be seen more than once to appreciate how well constructed it truly is
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Well crafted and charming but may be of limited interest
bob the moo30 December 2002
Gilbert and Sullivan are a successful musical team writing their shows for the Savoy Hotel in London. However Sullivan is tired and is suffering from ill-health. During a bad bout he resolves to no longer write for the Savoy with Gilbert but instead to recover in France and then to strike out alone and write a grand opera. Gilbert meanwhile, is showing signs of fatigue – coming up with plots that use the same devices to the same ends. However the two are contractually obliged to continue their relationship, a prospect both seem ill at ease with until Gilbert takes an afternoon off at an exhibition of Japanese culture, sowing the seeds of inspiration for The Mikado.

I honestly had never even heard of this film until the television premier in 2002, if you had told me Mike Leigh had made a film on such subject matter I would likely have laughed down my sleeve at such a suggestion. However I gave this a watch despite the fact I know little (or care little) for the works of Gilbert and Sullivan and worries bout the fact it was 160 odd minutes long! However the plot is sufficiently well delivered to take those who only know a little about the pair to keep up. By taking the snapshot of the Mikado to show their relationship the film takes away what could have been a rough, sprawling epic – the snapshot works much better. The weaving of the production into the narrative, rather than all at the end, means that both sets of fans will be happy – there is enough music to please those who came for that, but also enough plot within to drive the film.

Leigh does very well, mixing humour and telling drama with the music of the show. The production of the film (and the production!) are both very good and the detail is fine. The cast are all excellent. Broadbent is good as the straight-laced Gilbert and his chemistry with the enjoyable Corduner works throughout. The support cast are all good in singing and non-singing scenes – I was surprised to see Spall carrying the tunes so well!

Overall this is a good film but I doubt that Gilbert & Sullivan will be much of a draw even now that it is on TV. However if you have the chance to watch it then you should push through your reservations and give it a try – it is engaging and humourous enough to overcome a lack of knowledge (or interest) in the pair's work.
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Laughter. Tears. Curtain.
Nikos-1228 May 2000
Mike Leigh would not be the first name that springs to mind when presented with a biopic of Gilbert and Sullivan. Possibly Anthony Minghella, or maybe Ang Lee, but never a director only known for gritty, unremittingly depressing working-class drama. However, in 'Topsy-Turvy', Leigh has not only directed, but written, a fine piece of period comedy-drama.

Leigh, it transpires, has always loved Gilbert and Sullivan and the love shows in his highly polished script. It not only exploits the music and words of the great nineteenth-century operettists but retains a feeling for the wit of their work throughout. W.S. Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) is more than annoyed at suggestions that he is becoming unoriginal and Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner) rather tired with working with him. He wants to produce great music and is uninspired by Gilbert's latest libretto.

A chance visit to an exhibition of Japanese customs and produce stimulates Gilbert to write 'The Mikado', one of his most witty works (and, it seems, Leigh's favourite). After a lengthy vacation, Sullivan is willing to write the accompanying music and rehearsals begin. This is where Leigh's brilliance as both writer and director shines through, creating enormously entertaining and dramatic scenes while underlining the partners' unceasing perfectionism.

A cast full of Leigh regulars, headed by the dreaming Corduner and wonderfully cantankerous Broadbent, are marvellous, with Timothy Spall and Kevin McKidd stealing the show as a pair of complete 'luvvy' actors. It is Shirley Henderson (also excellent in Michael Winterbottom's 'Wonderland') who gives the film a real emotional centre, however, as a widowed actress slowly turning to drink. Leigh's past, it seems, has not entirely been left behind.
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The Legacy of Gilbert and Sullivan
jsloan-522 January 2004
I first saw this movie in the summer of 2000. This movie means a lot to me because it made the Gilbert and Sullivan operas a keen interest of mine. I had always been somewhat intrigued by the G&S style since I first saw a production of The Mikado. This movie inflated the interest and today I know all the G&S operas by heart and a great deal about the history of the Savoy Theater and the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. In this movie there are great performances all around, especially from Jim Broadbent who personifies W.S. Gilbert almost exactly how he was in real life. The movie was so detailed, I was convinced that the characters were actually in Victorian England. Now, having a thorough knowledge of Gilbert and Sullivan, I still enjoy watching this movie and relating it to the whole Gilbert and Sullivan Legacy.
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Interesting film-making, but too long for the subject matter
Shiva-1116 January 2000
Creative genius is a fickle creature. It is rare (some might say impossible) to find artists working in concert who don't experience the aptly termed "creative differences". Indeed most collaborations, whether the result of clashing egos (Simon and Garfunkel), divergent visions (The Beatles), or plain old hatred (Guns 'N Roses) eventually self-destruct. Therein lies the dilemma for the operatic duo of Gilbert and Sullivan.

After nearly a decade of uninterrupted commercial successes their career has reached a crossroads: their latest effort is doing poorly at the box office due to a combination of lackluster reviews, and a vicious heat wave. Sullivan (Allan Corduner) exhausted and in ill health, repairs to the continent to rejuvenate himself and upon his return informs Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) that he has grown tired of the repetitive and unimaginative nature of their operas. Sullivan has decided to devote his remaining time, however long, to serious music.

After stewing about the revelation for several hours, Gilbert agrees to accompany his wife to a Japanese exposition in the hope that he will find some peace. Instead he experiences an epiphany: he will write a new opera set in Japan. The question is can he convince Sullivan to score it?

Director Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies) is legendary for his attention to detail. He requires his actors not only learn their lines, but create a history for the character: their favorite foods, hygiene habits, and literary choices. Consequently he elicits unique performances from his cast. This film is no exception: Broadbent's stoic, sensible, and dignified Gilbert is simultaneously witty and clueless, while Martin Savage's performance as the pompous, manic, substance-abusing diva George Grossmith is eerily familiar (shades of Robert Downey Jr.). Leigh also goes to great efforts to create both a pleasing and authentic visual experience: from the sets, to the backdrops to the costumes, he does an excellent job of recreating the Victorian era. Unfortunately Leigh's microscopic view is also his undoing.

I enjoyed several aspects of this film, but there's just too much of it: with a runtime of 140+ minutes, Leigh spends so much time dwelling on the minutiae of the characters and setting that he forgets about the substance. Little if anything happens in the first hour and a half of the film (one of the reviewers sitting behind me fell asleep) and by the time the film finally hit it's stride I was checking my watch to see when it would be over.

If you are a Gilbert and Sullivan fan, you may enjoy this film. But mark my words: wear comfortable clothes and don't go for the big Coke unless you have a titanic bladder.
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It's NOT too long--and you needn't love G & S to love this movie
rbrthirschfeld017 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
While it's true that I've always loved Gilbert and Sullivan--I don;t think there are more than one or two better lyricists in the English language than William Gilbert--I think there's a wider audience for this film than just Savoyards. The fraying relationship between two gifted artists whose partnership was commercially successful but who lacked personal affinity is an old one (Lennon-McCartney? Lerner & Lowe) and the performances and writing focus on this nicely. Jim Broadbent especially is a wonderfully expressive actor who shines as Gilbert. Anyone interested in how theater has changed over the years--and how it has remained the same--will find a trove of fascinating things here, definitely including--SPOILER ALERT--the fact that drug use and dependency is hardly a new phenomenon. The dynamics of a theatrical company might well interest even those with little or no background in that business, it seemed to me. For those who care, there are plenty of lovely G & S bits and pieces to enjoy. Last and far from least, the relationship between Gilbert and his wife is, by turns, funny and touching--and Mrs. G's final long speech is a tour de force of writing and performance. Just writing about this film makes me want to see it again, soon.
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G&S Fan's Delight, Others May Not Agree
gilbert_and_sullivan_pwn16 February 2008
My only complaint about this film is that it seems a little slow in the beginning. As the film goes on it gets better and better and the end is entirely worth the somewhat slow start.

I was blown away by the voices in this film more than anything else. Having heard several version of the Mikado I thought I knew what songs I wanted to hear and what ones I hoped would be skipped. When I saw that "A More Humane Mikado" was in the movie I was less than happy. Timothy Spall is now ranked among the three bass singers who I enjoy listening to.

Be warned that while I found this movie to be a treat my younger brother and sister found the parts they did see less than entertaining.
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The Very Model of a Modern Major Musical
hokeybutt5 July 2005
TOPSY TURVY (3+ outta 5 stars) What an amazing change of pace for writer/director Mike Leigh! Instead of his usual slice-of-life peek into the lives of the English working class, this time he sets his sights on telling the tale of the famed writing team of Gilbert and Sullivan. This film tells the tale of one of the lowest points in their career... their latest musical was not a commercial or critical success and it looked like they had done all that they ever could as a team. Suddenly... out of nowhere... inspiration strikes and they embark upon probably their greatest work, "The Mikado." Those only familiar with Leigh's stark tales of modern day life will be amazed at how well he handles a period drama... and one filled with dazzling musical sequences as well! After seeing this movie you'll wish that he would have just gone ahead and filmed the *whole* "Mikado"! The actors do a tremendous job of bringing to life these characters, the unknown as well as the famous. You don't need to be a big Gilbert and Sullivan fan to enjoy this movie... but I guess some familiarity would help.
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I loved this film.
rmeredith25 June 2000
I unapologetically loved this movie. I have performed in several productions of G&S and it's harder than most people realize. Nothing has ever shown this quite as clearly as "Topsy-Turvy". The struggles of the actors are so real. Don't get me wrong- there is nothing earthshattering in this story- it's simply a love letter to a much misunderstood form of entertainment. Thanks to you, Mike Leigh!Beautifully done!
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A must see..but only for certain parties.
artsphreak23 February 2000
I personally appreciated the film, mainly because I love musical theater. I also love G&S. However I think this movie is not for a mainstream audience. Leigh really goes into detail in this movie. There were some interesting behind the scenes stuff as well as full musical numbers.

I recommend it to musical theater fans because the costumes, musical numbers, and other aspects of theater were well played out. However if you know nothing about musical theater or hate it. I would stay away. It is way too long for the average joe. Few movies can get away with being so long. I think too that it could have been shorter.
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A wonderful look at the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership...
nealjgauger7 January 2001
Topsy-Turvy is the latest from British writer/director Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies), telling the story of famed operetta collaborators W.S. Gilbert (lyrics)and Arthur Sullivan (music) during the time directly before, during, and after the production of their famed The Mikado. A fan of much of their work, especially The Mikado (I've performed it twice and know every note of every song), I was actually quite excited to see this film. All in all, after three hours and a bit longer, I emerged with a sore back, but, at the same time, the memories of a great film in my head. Leigh's rich visuals are warm, vibrant, and full of color, a style of direction which is a large departure from his usual fare. Actors Jim Broadbent (Gilbert) and Allan Corduner (Sullivan) obviously did their homework in researching bring their characters to life. They do so with pinpoint accuracy here, demonstrating their quirks, whether Gilbert's monotone delivery laced with biting wit, to Sullivan's constantly smoking, party boy manner. What made this film so great, was its refusal to turn into a biopic (a failure of 1999's Man On The Moon). Instead of showing famed scenes well known from G&S history, this film, rather, in the best sense of wording, is an 1800's slice of life piece. It's loosely centered upon The Mikado, but mostly looks into the inter-personal relationships between those that work together. Perhaps a little cutting could have saved me a trip to the chiropractor, but, hey, if that's the largest problem, you can't really complain. Be sure to catch this on video, as it's not going to get past most arthouse theatres. It's a shame too; these luxurious visuals deserve to be seen on a large screen.
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great movie, 10 minutes too long
bradshaw-25 August 2000
I loved the relationship between Gilbert & Sullivan, the story, everything about the movie. Except it doesn't end at the right point for me. We see the triumph of the Mikado, and the aftereffects it has on everyone, and then the movie sort of dies. The pleasant glow you have experienced gradually dies away, until just when you think you can't bear it much more, it ends. That being said, I still highly recommend it. Overall, a very good movie that just overstays its welcome by about 5 or 10 minutes.
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This movie has to be survived rather than enjoyed.
fedor817 December 2007
Reading the IMDb comments about TT, one could easily get the impression that Leigh's 1999 movie is a "cinematic feast" or an "experience of dazzling majesty" or some such crap. Seriously now, the comments on TT range from pretentious to wannabe pretentious, not much else aside from that. Having seen the movie, I realize that the discrepancy between what is written about it and how it actually plays tends to be... enormous. Maybe too many pompous film buffs/fans feel that they MUST enjoy an Oscar-awarded movie, or that any costumer cannot be criticized lest one risks appearing an uneducated/tasteless fool. Personally, I couldn't care less how I appear: THIS MOVIE IS DULL. That's the empirical truth I'm talking about here, mind you... (But of course...)

TT is one of Leigh's weakest films. His fall from grace (at least to me) started with "Secrets & Lies", a surprisingly dry drama, devoid of laughs, and all his movies since then have been disappointing to some extent. The acting is as good as in most of his films, but it's the numerous and tedious musical numbers which induce boredom, plus a lack of humour. Not to mention the marathon length - nearly 3 damn hours - which is simply too long for a movie where so little happens. TT is well-cast, though, and the visual quality is excellent. However, would you watch a nice painting for nearly 3 hours? You would??... Well, then, knock yourself out with this sleeping pill.
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Jim Broadbert proves yet again what a great talent he is
Rossco-217 September 2003
I have watched this film time and time again and find it more enjoyable each time. Jim Broadbent's is truly wonderful as the W.S Gilbert. This film captures an era wonderfully. Anyone who has access to the DVD should take the time to listen to Mike Leigh's, the director's, audio commentary to get the most from the film. I love this film and recommend it to anyone who loves the words and music of two towering talents, Gilbert and Sullivan.
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i am at a loss
Embley20 September 2000
i brought home this film and watched the beginning and got bored and turned it off. the next day i watched a little more, got bored and turned it off. the next day the same - for 5 or 6 days.. and i am still not finished it!

i persist because i really like most of mike leigh's films, and granted there have been a few interesting/humourous moments in topsy turvy, but overall i can't say i am impressed at all. apart from the art direction, the film seems pretty boring, and while i don't expect leigh's films to move quickly i do expect them to move.

if there is some secret great ending someone please let me know and i will brave it out, but as it is i think i have to call it quits on this one.
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Their Masterpiece Operetta
theowinthrop22 May 2005
In 1884 William Schwenk Gilbert came up with the idea for a new operetta which he took to his partners Richard D'Oyly Carte and Sir Arthur Sullivan. It was about a lozenge or a drink which if taken could change the party digesting it into any person he or she wanted. Gilbert had ideas about how to develop this idea into a full story, but as he outlined the idea he was told by his partners it would not do. His only alternative was his first "medieval" Savoy Opera. In 1882 Lord Tennyson had created a verse play called THE PRINCESS. It, like all Tennyson's plays, was politely successful because of their creator's popularity. Like his fellow poet, Robert Browning, Tennyson was a good poet but a third - rate dramatist. THE PRINCESS dealt with a princess running a school only for women. Gilbert, no feminist, saw some possibilities for a spoof. So he created PRINCESS IDA, taking Tennyson's basic work and twisting it into a satire on education, feminism, and medieval romances. There would even be a dig at Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory in the song "The Lady and the Ape". In retrospect it looks odd that Sullivan and Carte accepted it - it was a two act operetta with a prelude (today it is known as the only three act Savoy Opera). Reading it, even with allowance for predominant views of women in 1884, it is hard to understand why they felt it was suitable or would be popular. My guess is that the medieval background appealed to Sullivan's desire for a grand opera work.

PRINCESS IDA ran about eight months. Given that from 1877 to 1884 the average Savoy work ran a year and then some, this was a flop (it remains something of a flop even now - revivals of PRINCESS IDA are less likely than any of the completed operettas except for THE SORCEROR, UTOPIA LTD., and THE GRAND DUKE). Sullivan actually was better in doing his share in this work than Gilbert was than in any other of their works but THE GRAND DUKE - Gilbert's heart really wasn't in PRINCESS IDA. As a result of this, and Sullivan's knighthood that year, Gilbert was in a weak position.

His first offer was to let Sullivan do an operetta with another writer (Bret Harte was mentioned, interestingly enough). Then he offered the lozenge plot. Sullivan refused it again. He wanted a plot with real people and real situations. Actually that Sullivan said this at all shows how little he ever understood of his partner. Gilbert was not a realist, but went to town spoofing logic.

At the behest of his wife, Gilbert went to Knightsbridge, where a model Japanese village was exhibited. He found it fascinating, even buying a Japanese ceremonial sword as a souvenir. It was hanging on a wall in his study, where Gilbert was racking his brains for a new idea, when it fell. Gilbert walked to it, picked it up, and began thinking. And theatrical history was made as a result.

TOPSY-TURVEY follows the story of how Gilbert presented Sullivan and Carte with their greatest work, THE MIKADO, or THE TOWN OF TITIPOO (to give it it's complete title). It gives more details of the lifestyles and problems of both men (Gilbert's poisonous relationship with his mother; his failure to have children with his wife; Sullivan's relationship with Mrs. Ronalds - his American born lover). It looks more deeply into the lives and problems of Jessie Bond, George Grossmith, Rutland Barrignton, Richard Temple, and the other members of the cast and orchestra. As such it is more detailed than THE GREAT GILBERT AND SULLIVAN was, but it only concentrates on the year 1884 to 85. While all the performances are on target, and touching in their ways, Jim Broadbent as the stern but reliable dramatist gave his first film performance of international stature. He captures the lack of nonsense in the everyday Gilbert, the thorough craftsman of plays and productions standards (watch him when he rehearses Grossmith and the others - he fully knows the effects he wants). He missed out the Oscar that he was nominated for in 1999, but would get one a few years after for IRIS. His reputation is firmly established now.

Oh, about the lozenge plot. Over the years after 1885 Gilbert brought it up again and again in 1887, 1888, 1889. Each time he was shouted down. When the partners went their separate ways briefly after THE GONDELIERS, in 1890, Gilbert approached Alfred Cellier with the idea. Cellier said yes. Sullivan finally produced his opera, IVANHOE at this time. It ran for four months, and then fell into oblivion. Gilbert and Cellier's THE MOUNTEBANKS ran for about as long as PRINCESS IDA did, and since it was not a Gilbert and Sullivan work that was terrific. It can be revived on occasion. Gilbert had been right about the lozenge plot after all.
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