1884: the most successful partnership on the English stage is in trouble. An unkind review of Princess Ida has dubbed librettist WS Gilbert (Broadbent) 'the king of Topsy-Turvydom', while composer Sir Arthur Sullivan (Corduner) has decided to devote himself to more serious classical pieces rather than fulfil his contract with impresario D'Oyly Carte (Cook). The stalemate is broken when Gilbert visits an exhibition of Japanese arts and crafts, finds inspiration to pen The Mikado, engaging Sullivan's creativity once more. Leigh's first foray into period costume seems a radical departure from his usual provocative contemporary style, but, rustling frocks and painstaking enunciation aside, the concerns are familiar: tensions between inner lives and public faces, between men and women, work and pleasure. Over 159 minutes, we become immersed in these pressurised lives, sensing the satisfactions of the footlights and the emotional price paid by damaged individuals. As the fascinating rehearsals gather pace, The Mikado stumbles into life before our eyes, and Truffaut's Day for Night comes to mind. That said, Leigh's cast are beyond compare, and the whole bighearted, splendidly droll celebration of the entertainer's lot surely stands among British cinema's one-of-a-kind treasures.
Cast and crew