Topsy-Turvey is a 1999 film starring Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner as the real life opera writers Gilbert and Sullivan. This is the story of the fracturing of their working relationship. Sullivan expresses a need to tear away from Gilbert’s formulaic libretto-writing to work on his own compositions, so they try one more opera, a Japanese story inspired by Gilbert’s trip to the museum. Sadly, the story is the same as his dozens of other stories, just disguised in a kimono. Unable to see the flaws in his work, Gilbert continues his writing at the expense of his wife’s happiness and her desire to start a family.
In addition to the esteemed Broadbent and Corduner, Harry Potter nerds will delight in seeing Timothy Spall in a very different role, as well as Shirley Henderson, both playing opera stars. Likewise Lord of the Rings nerds will get a kick out of Andy Serkis as the over-the-top choreographer.
The scenes in the film are enjoyable, especially comical ones like using code over 19th century telephones (a lot of shouting) and recruiting the Japanese women from the museum to come in and show the actors how the Japanese walk (unfortunately, they don’t understand English so they don’t know what they’re doing there). However, the scenes aren’t strung together tight enough to make one cohesive plot line. There are frequently scenes with all new characters over half way through the film (did I mention the movie is 160 minutes long?!). Many of the details don’t amount to anything important later on. For example, the opera star Grossmith is sickly, and later we see him shooting up in his dressing room. Shortly after, Sullivan, who’s conducting the opera, sees that there is something wrong with Grossmith on stage. Does Grosssmith faint during the show? Does he overdose afterward? Does someone talk to him about his problem? No. It doesn’t come up again. The film is frayed with these loose ends. And at 160 minutes, you’d expect to come to some kind of conclusion, but instead we see almost the entire The Mikado opera in short (well, not that short) bursts throughout the film.
What the movie lacks in story and editing, it makes up for in visuals. It won 2 Oscars: best costume design and best makeup, and a BAFTA for makeup and hair. Well, that’s something.