Victorian Humor

Finally watched Topsy-Turvy, the film about the infamous duo’s creation of the Mikado, and the events leading up to it. While watching the film I was nervous about how many liberties had been taken with accuracy, but apparently a fair amount of research went into it. The film is jam-packed with excellent performances from all concerned, from Jim Broadbent and Timothy Spall through to Andy ‘Gollum’ Serkis. I’ve no clue how biographical the presentation of Gilbert, Sullivan, D’Oyly Carte, George Grossmith and so on are, but they seem just about believable despite the light-hearted nature of the film, fully reconciled to the Victorian era they exist in. Allan Corduner absolutely shines as Sir Arthur Sullivan, giving the part enormous warmth and humanity, and providing a superb counterpoint to Broadbent’s uptight Gilbert.

The portrayal of Victorian theatre and the creative process was particularly interesting for me, mostly for how little things have changed. Discussions on cutting songs or tweaking dialogue all feel very familiar at this point, through to cast members arguing with costumiers about attire, and a tired company receiving notes after a rehearsal, prior to heading home, err, to the bar.

The conversations between Gilbert, his wife, and his elderly father, while presumably a modern creation, do wonderfully capture the contemporary demeanour, and attitudes. Jim Broadbent manages to deliver the lines without any hint of caricature, but alas I have seen too much of the brothers Faversham, who parody such situations rather well.

About my only real criticisms are the slightly excessive length (coupled to some overly-sedate pacing) and the out-of-order depiction of certain popular numbers. It seems as if the film-makers were trying to cram in all the big-hitting numbers from the Mikado, but that didn’t fit with any sane narrative, so at a couple of points they cut from the gestation of the libretto to a fully costumed, set and choreographed performance, and straight back. It just about works, but it’s not elegant.

Posted Tuesday, November 18th, 2008 under culture, films, history, theatre.


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