Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB.
United Kingdom, 1999. Goldwyn Films, Newmarket Capital Group, The Greenlight Fund, Thin Man Films. Screenplay by Mike Leigh. Cinematography by Dick Pope. Produced by Simon Channing Williams. Production Design by Eve Stewart. Costume Design by Lindy Hemming. Film Editing by Robin Sales.
You will not find a more convincing film that depicts the Victorian age: every single time a beautifully crafted character in Mike Leigh’s latest addition to his brilliant oeuvre enters a room, you are swept over with the feeling that someone has pored over every detail of production and costume design. Different in period and subject than any of Leigh’s modern urban dramas, this fantastic musical tells the story of how famous (and beloved) opera composers W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan came up with the idea of The Mikado. Of course it is all about money: the dynamic duo’s plays haven’t been doing too well in 1890s London in a long while and they are running out of ideas. The capital finds itself exhibiting a Japanese fair, and suddenly the boys have some new ideas! Fine-pointed detail is the real substance here, and anyone looking for a clearly delineated plot will be sorely disappointed. Leigh’s narrative gives us varied scenes that colourfully display the work that goes into putting a theatrical production together: rehearsals, bickering actors and their frustrated personal lives, the many changes that need to be made to the production (as Leigh himself put it in an interview, he was fascinated by the fact that so much work went into something that was so very trivial). After all the trouble, a work is born, and Leigh spares no expense in displaying the opera at its most beautiful (and most beautifully recorded, I might add, kudos to the sound people), making every heartache and triumph worth while. Leigh’s best next to Secrets and Lies, and the best film to come out of England in 1999.
The Criterion Collection: #558
Academy Awards: Best Makeup; Best Costume Design
Nominations: Best Original Screenplay; Best Art Direction
Venice Film Festival Award: Best Actor (Jim Broadbent)