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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 22.95%
Average: 11.48%
Pretty Bad: 11.48%
Total Crap: 26.23%

6 reviews, 25 user ratings

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by Filmnet

"The very model of a modern motion picture."
4 stars

Ever have the daydream or falling-asleep-fantasy of having a time machine? I do. Not the usual scenarios of investing in Microsoft in 1986 at $1 a share or suggesting the Titanic look out for icebergs. I go back and experience original productions of Shakespeare plays from the better tuppenny seats or listen to great orations. Kinky, huh?

I recently experienced time travel. I spent two and a half hours in 1885 and had an absolutely splendid time. Or at least the next best thing … I saw “Topsy-Turvy,” Mike Leigh’s incredible slice of Victorian England and 12 months in the lives of William S. Gilbert, Sir Arthur Sullivan and the D’oyly Carte Opera Company.

Just about everyone has been in, sat through or listened to an operetta by Gilbert & Sullivan. For some 20-odd years and 15 shows, they were the top entertainments of the Victorian world. Even today, modern productions of G&S musicals are providing a rollicking good night at the theatre, hardly changing a word from the century old versions, simply adding the appropriate topical references and using the comic actors of today.

In the sweltering summer of 1885, things are heated at The Savoy. Theatre attendance is down and the latest G&S effort, “Princess Ida,” isn’t a patch on their previous hits, like “Pinafore” and “Pirates.” Sullivan, suffering from bad kidneys and a lust for proper, symphonic recognition for his talents, decides he doesn’t want to put music to another of Gilbert’s topsy-turvy librettos. No amount of cajoling and patience seems to work. One day, Gilbert visits an exposition on life in the exotic, newly “opened” country of Japan, all the rage in Victorian times. This leads to the creation of one of their greatest works, “The Mikado” and the rest, as they say, is history.

The anguish, frustrations, insecurities and vices of actors and the difficulties of giving birth to an new piece of theatre are laid bare like I’ve rarely seen in a film, from the tense nerves at five minute call to the exhaustion as you get director’s notes in the stalls. The stage performances are exquisite. Even those who don’t have a clue what I’m talking about will find this a fascinating study.

“Topsy-Turvy” took a couple of Oscars for costumes, design and make-up … richly deserved. All too often I wanted to shout “Stop!” so I could study the incredible detail, feel the fabrics and wonder at the effect of period stage make-up, with the ridiculous red dots and grease stick lines. Even the lighting was period in every detail.

Apart from two actors, Jim Broadbent as Gilbert (The Borrowers, Little Voice, The Crying Game) and Shirley Henderson (Trainspotting, Rob Roy) as the Principal Soprano, I hardly knew a single name and face, though every one was faultless. Allan Corduner as Sullivan is amazing. Many are Mike Leigh favourites, from his earlier films (Secrets and Lies) or his many English stage productions. I was surprised to see so many first and second film notations in the biogs for the principal players. This entire film is a study in superb character acting.

Certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but I would heartily recommend “Topsy-Turvy” to anyone who enjoys sumptuous, intimate historic films. I laughed out loud at the incredible timing and wit, the silly tossing around of conversation in French or Italian and the sometimes foppish manners of Victorian England. Even if you’ve never been in or sat through a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta in your life, I guarantee you will enjoy the 160 minutes you spend in 1885. (Randall

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 04/10/00 15:36:06
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival For more in the 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/06/07 Ezzthetic How on earth this moron got himself registered on Rotten Tomatoes is beyond me. 5 stars
11/19/06 Ionicera a little too drawn out 4 stars
8/16/06 anthonyuk if this film was a heart monitor it would have flatlined! boredom has never been so painful 1 stars
8/19/05 Jeanne I loved this, and I don't even like G&S. Shirley Henderson is awesome! 4 stars
2/05/05 axe at turns fun and dull--Leigh gives each a whirl. 3 stars
11/10/04 Steve Denney Who the fuck are these wankers rating this movie as crap? Don't you understand pathos, iron 4 stars
7/07/03 Jack Sommersby Damn, how I hate this studied, overly deliberate bore. 1 stars
12/10/01 Andrew Carden Pittifully Boring and Dull Rehash Of Gilbert and Sullivan Songs. 1 stars
7/28/01 Henry Ginsberg Not bad .Slightly to long . 4 stars
6/14/01 Poxont Perfectly and accurately researched, directed, acted! 5 stars
3/25/01 jim Director nailed the personal lives of these people. Really did his reaearch 5 stars
2/11/01 R.W. Welch Remarkable historic re-creation, but needed tighter editing and better continuity. 4 stars
8/08/00 Mic Cut it a bit (from performance of Mikado) and it would be even better. 4 stars
6/27/00 Purple Monster Only an illiterate twerp would bag this movie !!!! 5 stars
2/27/00 connie thompson Loved it. A truly wonderful film - Best of the Year 5 stars
2/16/00 Gjoko Ruzio-Saban Gilbert & Sullivan OK 5 stars
2/13/00 "Persnickety "Jenn cute, very well played, a must see for anyone looking for a good film! 5 stars
2/12/00 Skye Chapman a great movie. lots of fun. and i hate gilbert and sullivan 5 stars
2/08/00 Ron If they would let me cut about 50 minutes of shit I think it would then be a great film. 4 stars
1/31/00 F RICHARDS I LIKED IT 5 stars
1/21/00 Heather Loved it, although it could have done with some humor 5 stars
1/21/00 Spetters A wonderful surprise! 4 stars
12/25/99 Tha Obsequious Bad Janatah A huge bore, and unrelentlessly pointless, lacking a backbone. Overlong too! 1 stars
12/19/99 cinemel Long and mostly boring. 2 stars
12/19/99 Mr Showbiz Leigh's historical drama is cause for celebration amongst Gilbert & Sullivan fans. 5 stars
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  17-Dec-1999 (R)
  DVD: 12-Apr-2011



Directed by
  Mike Leigh

Written by
  Mike Leigh

  Alison Steadman
  Jim Broadbent
  Lesley Manville
  Allan Corduner

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