The world of Gilbert And Sullivan comes to vivid life in this extraordinary dramatization of the staging of their legendary 1885 comic opera Topsy-Turvy from Mike Leigh (Naked, Secrets and Lies). Jim Broadbent (Moulin Rouge, Iris) and Allan Corduner (Yentl, Vera Drake) brilliantly inhabit the roles of the world-famous Victorian librettist and composer, respectively, who, along with their troupe of temperamental actors, must battle personal and professional demons while mounting this major production. A lushly produced epic about the harsh realities of creative expression, featuring bravura performances and Oscar-winning costume design and makeup, Topsy-Turvy is an unexpected period delight from one of contemporary cinema's great artists.
As is often the case with Criterion Collection reissues, the bonus material for both the Blu-ray and DVD editions of Topsy-Turvy
is generous and varied. Aside from director Mike Leigh's audio commentary track, a nearly 40-minute conversation between Leigh and musical director Gary Yershon, the only item newly created for this release, will appeal to film buffs, as the two discuss Leigh's decision to focus on The Mikado
instead of other Gilbert and Sullivan works; the director's preference for lyricist Gilbert, the more conflicted and complex of the pair; the filmmakers' use of diaries and other material to give the film a strong factual basis; and various technical details. Deleted scenes and a brief (about 10 minutes) making-of featurette from 1999 are of middling interest, but the real gem here is "A Sense of History," a short (about 22 minutes) film from 1992. Directed by Leigh and both written by and starring Jim Broadbent, it's an amusing, increasingly strange satire of British nobility in which Broadbent portrays the (fictional) 23rd Earl of Leete. As a film crew accompanies him on a tour of his grand country estate, the earl details an outrageous catalogue of family horrors, ranging from an abusive father and narcotized mother to the earl's own macabre misdeeds. We're told that it was during the production of this film that Leigh and Broadbent first discussed making a movie about Gilbert and Sullivan, which explains its presence here; but this peculiar item could also stand quite well on its own. --Sam Graham