Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Five, Part Two – ‘Topsy-Turvy’ (1999)

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The Premise
Film fanatics and friends
 Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. The conversations often take unexpected turns into serious subjects and silly suppositions, but ultimately they always pull it back to the movies in question.

Week five is here, and both men have chosen British films released in 1999. Pretty similar choices then, right? Wrong!

You can read the entires from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.

You can also access the lists so far by clicking here for Fred’s and here for Yasser’s.
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Fred: We both picked British movies this week, and this is actually my most recent choice for you. It’s Mike Leigh’s ‘Topsy-Turvy‘. What are your initial thoughts?

Yasser: Well, for a movie set in the Victorian era, it was quite colourful.

FS: It is a colourful movie. Vibrant sets and costumes, and not only in the sections showing the play.

YA: Indeed.

FS: I’m slightly concerned that this is the first thing you’ve brought up.

YA: (laughs) You said “initial”.

FS: True. I did.

‘Topsy-Turvy’
1999 – UK
Director: Mike Leigh
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Allan Corduner, Ron Cook, Lesley Manville, Timothy Spall

YA: When it first played and I saw the date it’s set in, I noticed how it wasn’t set in grotty places like ‘Oliver!‘, for instance.

FS: Well it’s a world away from that. Gilbert & Sullivan (Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner) were wealthy celebrities. They were very successful men.

YA: Two different characters. One is very confident in his abilities, the other quite scared within himself and nervous about the work he writes.

FS: Absolutely. Sullivan wants to write a grand opera whilst Gilbert is quite dismissive of his own contribution.

YA: At the beginning it felt like ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors‘. You had one man who was always moaning, and one that was quite confident. (laughs)

FS: Yes. Your text (“40 mins in. Does it get any better?”) made my heart drop. i felt like you were itching to turn it off.

YA: I was. The first act was slow. Jim Broadbent, though he was playing an annoying character, he did it well.

FS: Broadbent is great. I’ve never seen him give a bad performance.

YA: Corduner’s Sullivan was a frustrated, but arrogant man, He also came across as a bit annoying.

FS: (laughs) Conceited?

YA: Conceited, yes! Very much so. It was sad to see Broadbent play such a small figure of a man. His lack of confidence when there are people around him aware of his talents.

FS: He nailed it though, performance-wise.

YA: Now, I hate this. I text you when I’m watching a film, and if I complain, as soon as I text you it gets better. The first act was somewhat slow drivel. I feel like it took too long to get in to the second.

FS: It’s setting up how they nearly went their separate ways, though.

YA: Yes.

FS: Then…?

YA: I text you, and all of a sudden there is a Japanese exhibition in London, full of a culture and tradition that the people of ‘Landan Tawn’ aren’t used to.

FS: Outside influence – like ‘East is East‘.

YA: Gilbert drinks a bit of green tea, watches a Japanese play, buys a katana. At long last Gilbert is an inspired individual.

FS: That look on his face as the idea for ‘The Mikado’ forms in his head and the music creeps up in the background to ‘Behold the Lord High Executioner’. It’s my favourite moment.

YA: Yeah. I loved the transformation in his character.

FS: A new lease of life.

YA: He developed into this mad, cold, calculating writer who needs his lines executed precisely as he envisions, not letting the actors’ egos around him get the better of him.

FS: For the first time you can see the characters have a similar traits when it comes to protecting the integrity of their work. You seem quite impressed by the look of the film…

YA: … and Gilbert’s rejuvenation…

FS: … How about the script and setting?

YA: There was lots of French and Italian in the film, loosely stitched into the English. It is one’s fortune to have an open mind so upon hearing such phrases, one is able to recognise the majority of them and their meanings.

FS: It must have been a Victorian fashion. The equivalent of text speak. OMG!

YA: You OMG’d! You never OMG. Why did you OMG?

FS: To demonstrate text speak. I’m sorry, It wont happen again.

YA: Thank fuck for that. I was thinking you were having an early mid-life crisis.

FS: (laughs)

YA: I think the manner the characters spoke in was exceptionally eloquent.

FS: It is splendid. Mike Leigh – surely one of the greatest living writer/ directors.

YA: Although some of them, the characters, were abhorrently pompous, which I surmise was the nature of how they were intended…. WHY AM I TALKING LIKE THIS? This is your fault, Fredders (laughs)

FS: Durward Lely (Kevin McKidd) and George Grossmith (Martin Savage) for instance are pompous.

YA: I didn’t realise Kevin McKidd was this talented. I have a new respect for this under-rated actor. He normally plays testosterone-fuelled, sword weilding characters.

FS: They did all their own singing too. What about the subplots, such as Gilbert’s relationship with his wife (Lesley Manville)?

YA: That’s what I meant before. He has such talent that everyone around him sees, especially his wife, but he’s still lacking his je ne sais quoi. It tarnishes his relationship with her.

FS: The lack of confidence in his work has spread to his personal life, and it’s not as easy to repair.

YA: I think maybe that figure he’s created when he’s inspired, where the actors fear him, that’s what he takes home with him even though he’s like that at home due to self-confidence issues.

FS: They share the final scene. It’s quite a downbeat ending for what is generally an uplifting film. It’s like Leigh was saying ‘enjoy your moment of triumph, but real life doesn’t go away’.

YA: Pretty true in most cases.

FS: How familiar were you with Mike Leigh’s output?

YA: This is the first film of his I’ve ever seen.

FS: What about Gilbert & Sullivan?

YA: It was also the first time I’d heard of them I’m afraid. I think this is most I’ve delved into the workings of Victorian opera houses.

FS: (laughs) That doesn’t surprise me. They were big favourites of both my grandfathers, and my Dad loves them too. I also like the music, though it’s tragically unfashionable to like them.

YA: It was better than Country & Western.

FS: (laughs)

YA: So before I sum up, why was it in your top 25?

FS: I just think it’s so atmospheric and authentic. It’s a real slice of Victorian life. The script and costumes and sets all help, as we discussed. I think it’s a funny film. There are lots of light-hearted moments that I enjoy, and, finally, the performances are pretty much faultless. Every member of the cast is at least an 8/10.

YA: Allan Corduner, he wasn’t amazing. He had the voice, the look, the body language, just not the standard of Broadbent. Martin Savage was pretty lacklustre too, for me.

FS: Awwww – I think he’s brilliant. So slimy.

YA: Lesley Manville and Wendy Nottingham were the best of the women.

FS: Lesley Manville should have been nominated for every award going for ‘Another Year‘.

YA: So, my conclusion – Most of the actors were good, Broadbent was exceptional, there were moments of wit, charm and elegance, and pure emotion. The first act was drawn out and droned on. They also should have finished with Gilbert and his wife, but for some reason that I am failing to grasp, they continued with more opera.

FS: I love that song.

YA: It’s not the kind of movie I like. Jim Broadbent saved it. 6/10.

FS: I’m pretty happy with that.

YA: Just a hunch… are you related to Sullivan?

FS: Yes! I was his brother!

YA: (laughs) Flippin’ heck! Uncanny.

FS: (laughs) See you next week for Jack Nicholson in ‘Chinatown‘ and Charlton Heston in ‘The Ten Commandments‘.

Next week: Stone tablets and irrigation.

3 thoughts on “Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Five, Part Two – ‘Topsy-Turvy’ (1999)

    […] Topsy-Turvy […]

    […] It’s like last week. ‘East is East‘ is a film I can relate to, ‘Topsy-Turvy‘ is one you can relate to. This is one of those movies me mam could put on when I was young, […]

    […] the Wind‘, ‘Cinema Paradiso‘, ‘Wild Strawberries‘, ‘Topsy-Turvy‘, ‘High Noon‘, ‘Breathless‘ and ‘Crimes and […]

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