Topsy-Turvy Screen 6 articles

Topsy-Turvy

1999

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  • The actors and actresses in the stage production, including Leigh regular Timothy Spall, all sing in their own voices, and Leigh's flair for comedy and sense of social interaction shine as he shows all the ingredients in The Mikado beginning to mesh. Thoroughly researched and unobtrusively upholstered, this beautifully assured entertainment about Victorian England is a string of delights.

  • Few films have examined so minutely every aspect of the creative process, devoting equal time both to the work itself (brainstorming, rehearsal, etc.) and to the frustrating but necessary "down time" between projects, as batteries are recharged and egos are fortified.

  • Nothing in [Leigh's] oeuvre anticipates Topsy-Turvy. The whole idea of this acerbic populist doing Gilbert and Sullivan's late-19th-century la-di-da is a jaw-dropper that only makes sense upon seeing the movie. Showman that he is, Leigh has produced a highly personal statement on the subject of middle-class art—an essay both genially digressive and fiercely intelligent, taking as its motto William Gilbert's remark that "every performance is a contrivance by its nature."

  • Period setting and musical numbers aside, the film is essentially not very different from Leigh's grungy contemporary dramas. What stands out in "Topsy-Turvy" is what drives "Naked," "Life is Sweet," and "Secrets and Lies": dizzying breakneck exchanges between people, uninterrupted. In fact, one of the most lyrical scenes, a mini-masterpiece of observation, is not one of the many beautifully reproduced musical numbers but an offstage rehearsal that practically flies along on Leigh's wordplay.

  • ...I would argue that in Topsy-Turvy Leigh is using the same unsparing gaze that he employs in his earlier works to reveal the structures behind the surfaces of the world of Gilbert and Sullivan, thus making them immediate and accessible to contemporary audiences, along with the era they inhabited. Topsy-Turvy is, in short, a radical work masquerading as a conventional biopic, and shows Leigh striking out into new territory as a filmmaker and social commentator.

  • The result is one of Leigh’s most brilliant films, and hands down the most pleasurable. The complexity of the characters and their relationships, the wealth of historical detail, the energy generated when Gilbert and Sullivan and the members of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company rehearse The Mikado (their most successful operetta), and the buoyancy of the music itself... make for a filmed entertainment that becomes more rewarding each time one watches it.

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