Mike Leigh

Topsy-Turvy (1999)

Topsy-Turvy (1999)

  • Born: 1943
  • Rank: 86
  • Score: 507.45
  • Awards: BAFTA / 2 NYFC / LAFC / BSFC / 2 NSFC
  • Nominations: 2 Oscars / 2 BAFTA / DGA
  • Feature Films: 10
  • Best: Topsy-Turvy
  • Worst: Career Girls

Top 5 Films:

  1. Topsy-Turvy – 1999
  2. Vera Drake – 2004
  3. Life is Sweet – 1991
  4. Happy-Go-Lucky – 2008
  5. Secrets and Lies – 1996

Top 10 Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1999 – 10th – Topsy-Turvy

Mike Leigh is kind of the opposite of Rob Reiner. Reiner made several truly great films and made several truly awful films. Leigh has made one great film (Topsy-Turvy), but not only has he never made an awful film, he’s never even made a mediocre film. Leigh’s entire career consists of good (Career Girls, Bleak Moments, High Hopes) and very good films (Naked, All or Nothing, the top 5). Five of his films sit at my highest ranking for ***.5 films, just barely below ****.

It has become standard for Leigh to earn Oscar nominations (4 for writing, 2 for directing), and every time he gets a nomination for a screenplay, comes the cry: “But they’re collaborative productions done through rehearsal and input from the actors.” I can’t figure out what people are arguing about. Are they saying the actors should be included in the nomination? I say no, because Leigh is the only credited writer and none of his actors have ever argued with that (particularly Timothy Spall, relatively unknown in the states before he took the role of Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter films, yet one of the finest actors in the world). Do they think the screenplay shouldn’t be nominated because of its process? Again, I say, ridiculous. The end result is what’s on the screen and what’s on the screen is often magnificent.

Topsy-Turvy – #7 film of 1999

I have popped in a copy of The Mikado as I write this to put me back in the mood. I had little interest in Topsy-Turvy when it came out because I had never much listened to Gilbert and Sullivan (that hasn’t changed much – this CD was free from work). But Leigh had been nominated for two Oscars three years before and the film was getting great reviews, so I finally saw it in on video. And I realized that while completely different from Leigh’s other films, it was also the best.

Timothy Spall had often been the star of Leigh’s films, but this time he was pushed into the smaller role of the Savoy star whose moment has passed (though the most poignant moment of the film is when his song is cut and the entire cast of the opera protests to Gilbert). This time the star was Jim Broadbent, another British actor whose reputation in the states was almost unknown (though he will make his Harry Potter debut this summer) and Broadbent’s performance anchored this sad, yet funny film.

By focusing on the making of The Mikado and the particularly tumultuous time in the relationship between Gilbert and Sullivan that brought about its existence, Leigh managed to make a film about the two great opera men that could be enjoyed by people who didn’t have the slightest interest in either the men or their music. He made it a human story and a damn good one.