Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. United Kingdom, 1939. G and S Films. Libretto based on the opera by William S. Gilbert. Cinematography by Bernard Knowles, William V. Skall. Produced by Geoffrey Toye. Music by Arthur Sullivan, Geoffrey Toye. Production Design by Ralph W. Brinton. Costume Design by Marcel Vertes. Film Editing by Philip Charlot, Gene Milford. Academy Awards 1939.
Gilbert and Sullivan’s popular musical romance about love and politics in a mythical Japan is transferred to the screen with colourful results that will delight the duo’s biggest fans. Given that it was made at a time when stage musicals rarely made it to the screen in any recognizable form, it is impressive to see how very little is altered for the film version here, the biggest concessions being the casting of an American tenor (Kenny Baker) in the lead and deletions made to the score. Baker plays an imperial prince whose father wants him to marry a hideous woman, so he goes into hiding as a poor minstrel and, on traveling to another city, falls in love with a beautiful young lass with whom he hopes to be joined. The plot is silly fluff, but the music is so beautiful that it gives you reason enough to stay in your seat, and the recording quality is exceptional enough to span the sixty years since it was made and still be quite pleasurable. Fans of Topsy-Turvy will definitely want to see this, and the early colour cinematography is astonishing.