In the 1880’s, writer Gilbert and composer Sullivan are discontent. The reviews aren’t great for their new show, and each is considering going his own way. Then Gilbert sees a Japanese culture exhibit and is inspired to write The Mikado. The theater owner books it, the actors prepare, and the play is a big hit.
And the whole thing is an exercise in futility to me, because the movie seems to presuppose that I know/care anything about Gilbert, Sullivan or The Mikado, which I do not. It’s all superbly acted, and meticulously designed. Some of the performance scenes are wonderfully filmed. I was marvelling at one in particular, detached, realizing that I have no desire to see this scene filmed, but if somebody must film it, Leigh is doing a bang-up job. Seems like it’s all a ton of fun, but the fun isn’t infectious. Maybe it was just the mood I was in, but for now, this is the rare film I admire but don’t enjoy.
Broadbent with his large, frowny eyes:
Sullivan (Allan Corduner of Me Without You, De-Lovely) is ill, but still manages to attend the opening of his Princess Ida at the Savoy Theater. After seeing the response, he runs around telling everyone he wants to write a grand opera instead of these “topsy-turvy” musicals. Gilbert (Jim “Inspector Butterman” Broadbent) is crotchety and complainy, having problems at home with his depressingly childless wife. There are parties and rehearsals. I noticed the great Shirley Henderson as one of the actresses, but didn’t recognize Andy “Gollum” Serkis, Kevin “Tommy in Trainspotting” McKidd or Lesley “every Mike Leigh movie” Manville.
I am into Shirley Henderson:
The film takes its shape from the characters, their relationships, and the abundance of historical information about the world they inhabit—and the ways in which it’s both distant from and close to our own. When Gilbert uses one of the first telephones in a private home in London to talk to D’Oyly Carte, what’s delightful is not only the look of the phone itself but that he has to work out an entirely new etiquette of communication. Sullivan drops into a casual conversation the tidbit that his relatives, the Churchills, have a handful in their headstrong eleven-year-old son, Winston.
Sully conducts his… masterpiece?
The one bit that sucked me in was when lead Mikado actor Timothy Spall’s solo song gets cut for pacing on the night before the premiere, and the cast holds a nervous stairwell confrontation with a humorless Gilbert, who agrees to reinstate it. That part got me because I felt the tension; I’d hate for anything bad to happen to Timothy Spall.