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Topsy-Turvy
BLU-RAY disk
03.23.2011 By: Mathew Plale
Topsy-Turvy order
Director:
Mike Leigh

Actors:
Jim Broadbent
Allan Corduner
Ron Cook

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Mike Leigh's look at the relationship between opera legends Gilbert and Sullivan (Broadbent, Corduner) and the making of their ninth collaboration, The Mikado.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
It’s 1884 London and playwright W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan’s latest production, Princess Ida, is a flop. It’s so disastrous that the Savoy Theatre’s establisher, Richard D’Oyly Carte shuts it down before another production can take its place.

With the wound in Gilbert and Sullivan’s collaborative careers exposed and getting deeper, options are running low. Then, inspired by a Kabuki performance, Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) pens The Mikado, which is accepted by Sullivan (Allan Corduner) to be their next musical.

As expected, Topsy-Turvy is an absolutely lavish film, with gorgeous costumes by Lindy Hemming (who won an Oscar for her work, along with Christine Blundell and Trefor Proud for their makeup) and art direction by Eve Stewart (Oscar-nominated alongside set decorator John Bush), who help capture the complete essence of the theatre.

Even without knowing his career in it, Leigh’s passion for the stage is evident. In Topsy-Turvy, which derives its titles from Gilbert’s absurdist style, Leigh goes through the entire process of casting, rehearsals, costumes, etc. etc. etc. This, of course, is what goes into such a production and Leigh makes it a point that every aspect be as important as the other. In covering all of these facets to such a particularized degree, Leigh has apparently set out to make the ultimate behind-the-scenes exploration of the theatre world. Maybe he succeeded, in which case praise should be poured over the director. But in doing so he has also alienated much of the audience that does not care for theatre.

While the 160 minutes of the admittedly good-spirited Topsy-Turvy should be wholly entertaining and a breeze for those with a fancy for the art, the experience for the rest of us is quite tedious and humdrum (that’s a word you theatre folk like, right?).
THE EXTRAS
Audio commentary featuring director Mike Leigh: Recorded in 1999, this track covers a variety of aspects of Topsy-Turvy, including the music, the cast, how certain scenes were achieved, and much more. Though Leigh often simply comments on what’s onscreen and there are some minor gaps in commentary, this is a very solid track.

Mike Leigh and Gary Yershon (37:22): Recorded in 2010 for this release, this insightful chat features Leigh and musical director Gary Yershon discussing “the work of Gilbert and Sullivan and adapting it for the screen.”

Deleted Scenes: There are four unfinished scenes here, deleted from the film for time reasons. Scene titles are: “Helen and D’Oyly Carte,” “Brothel scene (uncut),” “Sullivan’s aspirations,” and “’If Patriots Sentiment Is Wanted’ (cut song).”

A Sense of History (26:16): This 1992 short film, which incited discussion of Topsy-Turvy, stars Jim Broadbent, who has worked with Leigh both on stage and in film. In A Sense of History, the actor plays “the twenty-third Earl of Leete, who takes a film crew on a tour of his estate.”

Featurette (9:49): This vintage featurette is fairly standard and contains footage as well as interviews with Leigh, Broadbent, Allan Corduner, and more.

Trailer and TV Spots

Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 16-page booklet featuring an essay titled “Great Performances” by film critic Amy Taubin.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Those who fancy Topsy-Turvy will find this Criterion Collection Blu-ray hard to resist. The video and audio transfers alone make it worth it for them to own, while the inclusion of one of Leigh's short films may also be a selling point. Those who have little interest in the subject should take note of Leigh's passion and may be further turned off and will get nothing from the special features.
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