Published Feb 01, 2000Mike Leigh's new film Topsy Turvy is about the artistic collaboration between Gilbert and Sullivan, specifically the process that led to the creation of their operetta The Mikado. Based on the subject matter alone, I normally would have walked 100 miles to avoid seeing this, but this is a Mike Leigh film, and it turns out to be his best since Naked. It won me over in a big way during a scene in which librettist Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) started reading his "pitch" for the next project to his composing partner, Sullivan (Allan Corduner). It's clear that Sullivan is tired of this process and wants to stretch himself artistically, so he starts berating Gilbert's reliance on using magic potions or elixirs as plot devices to propel the story. Gilbert is undaunted, and, in a moment reminiscent of Spinal Tap ("this one goes to eleven"), he pauses and then soldiers on: "In this case, it is a magic potion." This is definitely a movie that grows on you as it plays. It's over two-and-a-half hours long and it consistently gets funnier and more exhilarating to watch. Leigh's immensely likeable ensemble cast includes most of his regulars (Timothy Spall, Alison Steadman, Leslie Manville), and no matter how big or small the part, they all spring, fully realised, onto the screen. Topsy Turvy shows the complex, organic process of artistic creation with all of its inherent tension and urgency. At one point, in a moment of self-doubt, Gilbert decides to cut out one of the main songs in the play, and, after some hushed discussions, his cast quietly but firmly refuses to allow him to do so. I was on the edge of my seat waiting for Gilbert's response to this impromptu uprising. You could have heard a pin drop.