In many ways it’s a major departure for Leigh. His work to this point had been about the working class and set in contemporary England. This is a period film (1880’s—we get some anecdotes about the fountain pen and telephone in its early stages) and is about artists and the affluent (Gilbert and Sullivan).
It is a film about the artistic process. And that has always been Leigh’s obsession. He is as famous for his process of developing the characters in his films with his cast over improvisations and rehearsals as he is for his films. I’ve seen it many times and it’s Leigh’s 8 ½.
Some gorgeous mise-en-scenes here accentuating period production design detail, wallpaper, drapes, costume work.
There’s a really nice setting of the frame at 22 minutes in with Jim Broadbent and his wife in the film Lesley Manville at the dinner table. Perfectly symmetrical. One shot in a medium/long shot. Impressive
I laugh out loud every time I watch the scene of Broadbent yelling at his wife and housekeeper and calls them harpies and tells them he’s busy trying to work.
The story is about Gilbert and Sullivan—but it sprawls out, like an Altman film almost, to touch others that touch their world. Some of them only get one scene, but it’s all impeccably detailed and well-written. This is a theater family.
Academy award wins for makeup and costume
Praise for the décor—not just the opera scenes (and there are plenty that push this out to just over 160 minutes but never feels long). The wallpaper and curtain detail.
Broadbent’s Gilbert is a pragmatist. Allan Corduner’s Sullivan is an elitist- a complex relationship and, like all of Leigh’s work, magnificently rich characters
I wonder how much of Leigh saw himself in Broadbent’s character specifically. They talk about how they are repeating himself (Leigh has been making social/realist, contemporary films since the early 1970’s at this point)—this is new- the Mikado— just like how Broadbent is influenced by the Japanese exhibit. There’s a great scene here where the Japanese sword on the wall literally falls and hits him on the head like a thought bubble. A great shot where Leigh’s camera tracks in on his face with the epiphany for his next opera.
Again, Leigh loves the behind the scenes making of art here. There’s a really remarkable shot with three of the opera singers practicing with Corduner’s Sullivan in one really long shot. These actors are actually doing this—extraordinary.
In a 160 minute film there’s a great 1 minute scene of Corduner’s Sullivan trying to write his own ambitious opera (without Gilbert)— and he can’t do it. Other standouts are a very touching scene where the chorus save Timothy Spall’s solo, and yet another where Lesley Manville puts her stamp on the film sitting in bed with Broadbent.
The entire cast and ensemble impresses but this is a bit of a coming out party for Broadbent. He’s commanding. He’s good in Leigh’s Life is Sweet from 1990 and he’s been in and around good movies for a long time—but this film (his best to date along with Moulin Rouge) starts him on his run from 1999-2005 where he wins an Oscar and has 6 archiveable films
I’ve never fully understood why we end the film on Shirley Henderson. She’s great, and part of the cast and ensemble but it should be on the two men or ended with the standout scene and exchange between Broadbent and Manville