Sounding for all the world like a Thom Yorke solo album, Typist Pirate Artist King is actually a fanciful biopic of neglected artist Audrey Amiss (the title comes from her listed occupation in her passport), played with maximum vim and vigour by the ever-brilliant Monica Dolan (W1A, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa).
For the uninitiated, Amiss is a Sunderland born painter who studied at the Royal Academy during the 1950s, suffered a breakdown and was in and out of institutions for the rest of her life. Taking a job as a typist, she continued to produce a constant flow of unseen sketches detailing her everyday life and compiled a stream-of-conscious journal, augmented by found objects (Frosties packets, Maltesers wrappers). Writer-director Carol Morley (Dreams of a Life, The Falling) discovered the treasure trove of Amiss’ work at the Wellcome Collection archive and used it as a jumping off point for a sensitive, enjoyable, slightly aimless but perfectly performed portrait of a cantankerous woman on fire.
Morley has reimagined Amiss’s life as a road trip after the artist cajoles her long-suffering psychiatric care worker Sandra (Kelly Macdonald) to drive her to a local gallery to see if it will exhibit her work. What the canny Audrey doesn’t initially reveal is that the gallery is local to her hometown of Sunderland, drawing Sandra into a London to Tyne and Wear trek in her yellow hatchback (named Sunshine), Audrey dubbing her driver Sandra Panza to her Don Quixote, another itinerant dreamer.
The Thelma and Louise of the A1, they make Typist Artist Pirate King a journey worth taking
There are run-ins with a Church chair yoga group, a medieval re-enactment group and Morris dancers, all the while Audrey believing she is reconnecting with figures from her past (she clearly isn’t). If it’s effective at drip feeding Audrey’s backstory, it makes the film repetitive, a prosaic quality compounded by an uninspired visual schema that feels at odds with the artist’s vibrant worldview. We never really get inside Audrey’s head.
Still, the joy in Typist Artist Pirate King lies in its central duo. Dolan’s full-on committed performance stays just the right side of irritating – she is garrulous to a fault – attacking Audrey’s colourful pugnacious language (‘Bum suck!’ ‘Arse wipe!’ ‘My heart bleeds custard for you!’) with gusto, but also finding quieter notes, be it rhapsodising about the beauty of a Quaver caught in the light or noticing the artistic qualities of a tree having just driven into it. She is perfectly matched by Macdonald, doing selfless work in a much quieter mode but still giving a sense of Sandra’s inner life too. This odd couple, the Thelma and Louise of the A1, make Typist Artist Pirate King a journey worth taking.
In UK cinemas October 27.