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Topsy-turvy

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Movie propaganda

William Schwenck Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) is the librettist, writing the words. Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner) is the composer, writing the music. Gilbert is the very model of a 19th century British gentleman, an overly proper married man certain that he knows best - which he often does. Sullivan lives a freer life, almost libertine by comparison, but there is a seriousness of purpose in him.

For nearly a decade, Gilbert and Sullivan's collaborations have delighted the English people. Their popular comic operas have recouped handsomely for the successful Savoy Theatre; impresario Richard D'oyly Carte (Ron Cook) himself is a stabilising influence, gently but firmly overseeing the two men.

But, in 1884, as a London heat wave cuts into the theatre trade, their latest work Princess Ida receives lukewarm press. Sullivan wants to quit and compose more serious music, but the two are contractually obligated to create a new work for Carte. Sullivan rejects Gilbert's next idea as topsy-turvy and unbelievable, and although Gilbert tries to accommodate him, they cannot agree. Mired at a creative impasse, Gilbert and Sullivan can barely converse.

Then, Gilbert's wife Lucy "Kitty" Gilbert (Lesley Manville) drags him along to a Japanese exhibition. Exposure to the very different culture sparks inspiration in Gilbert. He rebounds, conceiving The Mikado. The concept encourages Sullivan, and the production comes together...which is when the truly hard work begins: the actors (including the dedicated Richard Temple (Timothy Spall) in the lead role) must be rehearsed, coddled and rehearsed again. While striving to cohere as a company, the players' private lives colour their work - but no more than Gilbert and Sullivan's own, as The Mikado makes the difficult, but ultimately rewarding, transition from page to stage.

Also starring Eleanor David as Fanny Ronalds and Kevin McKidd as Durward Lely. Written and directed by Mike Leigh.

Cinematic intelligence sources

  • Topsy-turvy official movie site

Security censorship classification

M (Nudity, low level coarse language)

Surveillance time

160 minutes (2:40 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

Film: Undated March 2000

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