Critics Consensus

A thoroughly entertaining character study and a great success for Mike Leigh.



Total Count: 84


Audience Score

User Ratings: 5,618
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Topsy-Turvy Photos

Movie Info

William Schwenck Gilbert is the librettist, writing the words. Arthur Sullivan is the composer, writing the music. Gilbert is the very model of a 19th-century British gentleman, an overly proper married man certain that he knows best. For nearly a decade, Gilbert and Sullivan's collaborations have delighted the English people. Their popular comic operas have recouped handsomely for the successful Savoy Theatre... But, in 1884, as a London heat wave cuts into the theater trade, their latest work, "Princess Ida," receives lukewarm press. Sullivan rejects Gilbert's next idea as "topsy-turvy" and unbelievable, and although Gilbert tries to accommodate him, they cannot agree. Mired at a creative impasse, Gilbert and Sullivan can barely converse. Then, Gilbert's wife, Lucy "Kitty" Gilbert, drags him along to a Japanese exhibition--exposure to the very different culture begins inspiration to embark on the production of "The Mikado."


Jim Broadbent
as William Schwenk Gilbert
Allan Corduner
as Arthur Sullivan
Alan Corduner
as Arthur Sullivan
Timothy Spall
as Richard Temple
Lesley Manville
as Lucy Gilbert
Ron Cook
as Richard D'Oyly Carte
Wendy Nottingham
as Helen Lenoir
Kevin Mckidd
as Durward Lely
Shirley Henderson
as Leonora Braham
Dorothy Atkinson
as Jessie Bond
Martin Savage
as George Grossmith
Eleanor David
as Fanny Ronalds
Alison Steadman
as Madame Leon
Sukie Smith
as Clothilde
Roger Heathcott
as Stage Door-Keeper
Stefan Bednarczyk
as Frank Cellier
Kate Doherty
as Mrs. Judd
Keeley Gainey
as Maidservant
Gary Yershon
as Pianist in Brothel
Julia Rayner
as Mademoiselle Fromage
Jenny Pickering
as Second Prostitute
Sam Kelly
as Richard Barker
Charles Simon
as Gilbert's Father
Philippe Constantin
as Paris Waiter
Matthew C. Mills
as Walter Simmonds
Nicholas Woodeson
as Mr. Seymour
Nick Bartlett
as Stagehand
Gary Dunnington
as Stagehand
Kimi Shaw
as Spinner
Toksan Takahashi
as Calligrapher
Kanako Morishita
as Shamisen Player
Theresa Watson
as Maude Gilbert
Lavinia Bertram
as Florence Gilbert
Togo Igawa
as First Kabuki Actor
Eiji Kusuhara
as Second Kabuki Actor
Naoko Mori
as Miss `Sixpence Please'
Eve Pearce
as Gilbert's Mother
Neil Humphries
as Boy Actor
Vincent Franklin
as Rutland Barrington
Michael Simkins
as Frederick Bovill
Cathy Sara
as Sibyl Grey
Angela Curran
as Miss Morton
Andy Serkis
as John D'Auban
Mia Soteriou
as Mrs. Russell
Louise Gold
as Rosina Brandram
Shaun Glanville
as Mr. Harris
Julian Bleach
as Mr. Plank
Neil Salvage
as Mr. Hurley
Matt Bardock
as Mr. Tripp
Brid Brennan
as Madwoman
Mark Benton
as Mr. Price
Heather Craney
as Miss Russell
Julie Jupp
as Miss Meadows
John Warnaby
as Mr. Sanders
Kacey Ainsworth
as Miss Fitzherbert
Ashley Artus
as Mr. Marchmont
Richard Attlee
as Mr. Gordon
Paul Barnhill
as Mr. Flagstone
Nicholas Boulton
as Mr. Conyngham
Lorraine Brunning
as Miss Jardine
Simon Butteriss
as Mr. Lewis
Wayne Cater
as Mr. Rhys
Rosie Cavaliero
as Miss Moore
Michelle Chadwick
as Miss Warren
Debbie Chazen
as Miss Kingsley
Richard Coyle
as Mr. Hammond
Monica Dolan
as Miss Barnes
Sophie Duval
as Miss Brown
Anna Francolini
as Miss Biddles
Teresa Gallagher
as Miss Coleford
Sarah Howe
as Miss Woods
Ashley Jensen
as Miss Tringham
Gemma Page
as Miss Langton-James
Paul Rider
as Mr. Bentley
Mary Roscoe
as Miss Carlyle
Steven Speirs
as Mr. Kent
Angie Wallis
as Miss Wilkinson
Kevin Walton
as Mr. Evans
View All

Critic Reviews for Topsy-Turvy

All Critics (84) | Top Critics (22)

  • The notion of art as an organically evolving process is crucial to Leigh. Almost alone among directors, he creates his scripts in the rehearsal period through improvisations.

    Mar 5, 2018 | Full Review…

    David Ansen

    Top Critic
  • [A] beautifully crafted and lively romp around the 1880s stage world.

    Jun 17, 2008

    Deborah Young

    Top Critic
  • 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.

    Feb 9, 2006 | Full Review…
  • If you are a Gilbert and Sullivan buff, you will be in heaven. If you are not, the first thing you will need to know is that the film is nearly three hours long.

    Jul 21, 2005
  • The film is a delight and a surprise, all the more so since Leigh is associated with gritty working-class stories.

    Jun 18, 2002 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • Not your normal period piece, to be sure.

    Mar 22, 2002 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Topsy-Turvy

  • Jul 07, 2012
    It's a delightful tale on the early days of Broadbent and Sullivan, and I say it like that, because I've gotten used to Jim Broadbent playing Jim Broadbent too blasted much nowadays. Well, I suppose that when you become an older English person with a silly voice, you can't help but play an older English person with a silly voice (It's the Midget Principle; sorry about the name), though before he got stuck in that mode, he did what he did well and, well, he still does what he does well, it's just that noways, what he does do so well is play the same part. Well, it's not like the other Jim he could be was gonna be Jim from a trailer park in the middle of Geneva, Alabama (Hey, not "all" of Alabama is rid of rednecks yet), because the boy was always too blasted British, though not quite as British as the late producer on this film, Mr. Simon Channing-Williams. Wow, he was either a Colin or a Nigel away from just being a giant set of crooked teeth sitting on top a cup of tea, and I'd imagine that he looked like that when he angrily beared his teeth upon finding out how much this film made at the box office after he pumped £10 million into it. Usually, I would say that the film was financially doomed once it got slapped with the dreaded limited release deal, but it was pretty much done for once it got Mike Leigh attached, because he's done plenty of films and this about the only one that people remember, and even then, just try to find more than three people who's not a critic who knows what in the world this is. That's a shame, because if more Mike Leigh films like this, then I might need to check them out, not because this film is really good, but because I'm wondering if he has any films in which the slowness actually works, for although this film is an undeniably enjoyable one, it's not the easiest of watches. The critical consensus is that this film is "grandly" and "thoroughly" entertaining, and quite frankly, that should tell you that the majority of film critics must have a great appreciation for this film, being that they've got to be old enough to have actually attended a Gilbert and Sullivan production, which isn't to say that this film is all that dull, though it isn't terribly far off, as it is some of that good old fashion dry "entertainment". The film is almost dizzyingly British, right down to having that bread-rusk dryness that cuts deep down to the atmosphere, from which the dryness cuts much lively juice in the process, leaving the film often limp in tone, a situation made stingier by a story structure that's all too often just as limp. While the subject matter is intriguing, there's not a whole lot of meat or sweep to it, thus it is debatable whether or not it warrant a 160-minute runtime, and this film's story structures stands as strong evidence against the idea that this subject matter can comfortably fit such a sprawling runtime, as there's only so much punch to it, and with quite a bit of repetition, redundance and overall excessive padding, much of this film slows to a crawl, limping in its progression and often losing you along the way. I don't really feel so much like saying that the film loses steam, as it leaves the gate lacking in oomph and goes on to stay the course, picking up quite a bit in some spots, though not quite enough to go fully redeemed, and after a while, steam doesn't so much continue to die down as much as you grow more and more aware of much steam is limited. That right there is the mark of an underwhelming final product, and this film is exactly that, but just barely. The film doesn't go too many places, yet when it gets to where it wants to go, it delivers quite well, and when it's not hitting such high points, it's kept going by a variety of strengths. That's sadly not enough to carry the film past kind of dull, yet it is more than enough to make it an enjoyable watch, especially if you're a fan of fine production pieces. For set and costume production in 1999, this film cost quite the pretty penny, and while it didn't make up for that financially, it certainly found itself rewarded in Oscar gold, and justly so, as the production designs and art direction is brilliantly elaborate and transportingly subtle, planting you back into England's Victorian era while really capturing the livliness of Gilbert and Sullivan's world with much dazzling flashiness. What further breathes life into this era is Mike Leigh's script, which is may be a structural mess, but has its fair share of razor-sharp moments, while keeping consistent in portraying the era and its people in a fashion that is charmingly authentic, yet not overbearingly so, feeling believable and comforting, with mostly sharp humor enhancing such a feel. Sure, not all bits of humor hit home, and there is the occasional one that just plain falls flat on its face, yet more often than not, it wins you over with cleverness, wit and, here and there, even a bit of snap that feels very down-to-earth, yet slick enough to keep you charmed, if not chuckling. Still, the film wouldn't be as lively as it is without the the intense charm of the talent-riddled cast of charismas. Now, the film is being touted by a couple of people as a drama, when really, this film is about as much the drama that people say it is as it is the consistently fun film that people say it is, so don't expect a whole lot of dramatic material to fall upon our performers for them to carry you past the slowness, but expect them to make up for that with across-the-board colorful and distinct charisma so sharp, that you'd be hard pressed to not find these characters memorable. Yes, the film, while quite flawed, has much in the way of strengths, yet everything leads back to one certain aspect that really carries this film. Ladies and gentlemen, if nothing else, the film is thoroughly charming in its wit, innocence and memorability, and while its being just so slow and overlong keeps it from really punching, it remains not simply enjoyable, but rather worth remembering, because for every fault - of course, there are many -, there is a winning strength to charm and transport you into this lively world, and leave you to have a decent time while doing so. Overall, the film isn't quite the thoroughly entertaining piece many tout it to be, as it goes tainted by a consistently dry aura that, alongside reptition, redundance and a profound lack of oomph, really emphasizes the lack of juice in this subject matter and the gratuitousness of its length, rendering the final product somewhat dull, often disengaging and ultimately underwhelming, yet still worth watching, not just because of the brilliantly intricate, lively and all around very well-done production designs and art direction, but also because of the witty script, complimented by mostly sharp humor, and really brought to life by a slew of colorful, memorable and immensely charismatic performers, who stand as one of the biggest supplements to the consistent and intense charm that ultimately leaves "Topsy-Turvy" to stand as an enjoyable and sometimes even somewhat intriguing study on the early years of Gilbert and Sullivan, even if it itself gets to be a bit of a topsy-turvy watch. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Jul 18, 2011
    9.1/10 I watch Mike Leigh's films for many reasons, but here are just three of them; to feel good, to feel sad and helpless, and to be treated to yet another excellent study of the human mind and its capabilities. Leigh's films delight as much as they intrigue...well, most of them at least. His latest film, "Another Year", seems like pure pleasure, that is until we delve into a deeper, darker, more desperate sub-plot involving one of the characters. And then there's his most challenging feature, "Naked", which is as hard to watch as it is interesting to witness unfold. Now, "Topsy-Turvy" is sort of different. Never did I get the feeling that the film was a sad one, but it says a lot about people, in general, nevertheless. It's a traditional Mike Leigh film with a touch of an epic; making it something different visually and atmospherically, but also familiar in terms of spirit and attitude. It's a fun movie to watch, although you might just have to do so twice. Let's just say that in epics such as this one, there is so much to absorb; visual detail, narrative tweaks, and whatnot. You can't take every ounce of it in all in one viewing, and Mike Leigh knows that; so he allows his film to be loved by those who can appreciate it. If you love it, then you will watch it again, and if you don't, then too bad. Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner) has just composed a new opera, and it has failed miserably. His audience is bored throughout the performance, and some of his actors even find it quite silly and pathetic themselves. It is clear that Sullivan needs a new break, and he gets one. His producer (Ron Cook) calls him and playwright W.S. Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) in for a meeting, and asks them to collaborate on a new piece for the Opera House "The Savoy". Gilbert is suffering from writer's block, and Sullivan initially refuses to write another piece for the place. However, Gilbert gets a very, very good idea one day when his wife drags him along to a Japanese art and culture exhibit. It is here that he develops a fascination with the values and cultural differences of Japan; and decides that his next opera shall be titled "The Mikado". It is a glorious comic opera that most of us have heard of, and most of us won't need to know much about to enjoy "Topsy-Turvy". The piece unfolds like a satire, and in the real-life events that inspired the film, the opera also turned out to be a success. So I spoiled the ending for you. Big deal. If you read any synopsis, you can tell that this is a predictable film. But sometimes, predictable isn't bad; and plus, there is still much to love out of the production. It's a fun, entertaining film that never feels overlong, it is always engaging, amusing, sometimes even humorous; but always crafty and well-made. The scene where "The Mikado" is actually performed is one of the best scenes I've seen in any film, period. And when it ended, and everybody cheered; I wanted to cheer too, because I was so very happy. The film itself might have brought on such emotions, but then again, so did...the conclusion. Jim Broadbent is one of the most underrated actors I know. All around me, I hear people speak of DiCaprio, Penn, and whoever else. What about Broadbent? The man is pure, living talent at its finest. He is becoming one of my favorite actors, and what do you know, he's done it yet again here. But who shines most of all, for me, is Allan Corduner. I'm not familiar with this fellow, but oh, I'd like to be; he's a fine actor in a fine role. But then again, I suppose everybody here is. I'm ever-so-fond of filmmakers who are obsessed, compelled, and inspired by something major; perhaps a time period, a science, or something of the like. I especially like it when they can put it into film and create something remotely good. "Topsy-Turvy" is the work of a man who is fascinated, obsessed with theatre; and I loved Mike Leigh's attention to detail, characters, and humanity. The film is set in the interesting Victorian Era; and the characters often make conversation, which also makes for good commentary. So yes, Mike Leigh's film is not without its share of sheer intelligence. I don't see how it wasn't nominated for Best Picture in its year. "Topsy-Turvy" left me in a good mood. It has depth, length, spectacle; it is everything that a film should be, or at least everything a GREAT film should be. I won't argue that to some, it could come off as pretentious (it is sometimes slow, and there's a wonderful, but divisive scene in which the filmmaker uses only one shot for several minutes, and to non-experience film-goers, this could come off as, should I say, bothersome). But if you look past everything, allow yourself to feel good while watching a film, and just like it as it is; then "Topsy-Turvy" will work its charm, its humor, its wit, and its specialties; and there are many of them. Too many to list; too many to describe. This film is so good that you must see it to know how its admirers feel about it, so...get to it.
    Ryan M Super Reviewer
  • Jun 25, 2011
    This is a great film. Mike Leigh ranks among the best of great filmmakers. Topsy-Turvy is easily one of his best most cherished pictures. It's a theater picture but it's more then a theater picture. Leigh puts all his passions into this since he too was a theater director. I really got to see an inside glimpse of the hardwork and dedication the men and women endure in order to conquer a great night. The sets and colors, makeup, and cinematography is a sight too seem some may find this a little bit too long due to the length but I couldn't help but be enjoyed by one of the finest masters at work.
    Brian R Super Reviewer
  • Apr 03, 2011
    The narrow focus is quite effective as looking at the creation of "The Mikado" gives a lot of insight into not just Gilbert and Sullivan's creative process but how theatre as a whole functioned in the late 19th century. I really wish Leigh would make more bio-pics/period pieces, between this and "Mr. Turner" he's proven himself to be infinitely more adept at the formula than a lot of other filmmakers.
    Alec B Super Reviewer

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