The world of Gilbert and Sullivan comes to vivid life in director Mike Leigh’s extraordinary dramatization of the staging of the duo’s legendary 1885 comic opera The Mikado. Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner brilliantly inhabit the roles of the world-famous Victorian librettist and composer, who, along with their troupe of temperamental actors, must battle personal and professional demons while mounting this major production. A lushly produced epic about the harsh realities of creative expression, featuring bravura performances and Oscar-winning costume design and makeup, Topsy-Turvy is an unexpected period delight from one of contemporary cinema’s great artists.
Mike Leigh’s Topsy Turvy is presented in the director’s preferred aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on this dual-layer disc in a new 1080p/24hz transfer.
Topsy Turvy is an incredibly bright and lively film and is one that truly benefits from the format and the image on here generally looks good but is open to improvement. Details are decent and the image remains consistently sharp but there are some moments where it looks a little fuzzy around the edges and finer details get lost. Also, while the digital transfer remains stable and clean through most of the film I did notice some minor halos in a few places, usually when something very dark is up against something brighter, and there are shimmering effects to be found in the patterns of the clothing worn. Colours look absolutely splendid, though, with the bright set pieces almost popping off screen. Blacks are inky and flesh tones also look natural.
I was surprised by a couple of rather large blemishes that appear in the source materials because as a whole the print is in pristine shape. Film grain is present but never intrusive and it does look natural.
In all it does still look good and the upgrade from the previous DVD is substantial, but I was still rather surprised by a few inconsistencies and was probably expecting a little.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track found here is beautiful. While I had some issues with the mixing during a few scenes (voices are rather hard to hear here and there and I ended up turning the center channel up a bit to make up for this) the clarity and range of this track is stunning. The music in the film sounds sensational, and the numbers clearly fill out the entire environment with natural movement occurring through all of the speakers. There are some ambient effects that make their way to the rear speakers, and audience applause seems to naturally move from the fronts to the back.
Volume levels are excellent but it can get quite loud on occasion. The level of clarity is also exceptional and the track is free of any distortion or noise. Overall this is a pleasant and energetic soundtrack that adds a lot of life to this already lively film.
Though I never did own the original DVD edition for Topsy Turvy I have rented it and was sorely disappointed by the features on that disc, which only presented a featurette , trailers, and possibly a gallery (I believe DVD releases from elsewhere actually included a commentary by Leigh.) Criterion makes up for this by adding more to this edition.
First up is an audio commentary by Mike Leigh, recorded in 1999, so I assume this track appeared on releases from other regions (I’m positive it was not on the North American DVD I had rented but since I don’t own it I can’t say for certain.) While I recall liking Leigh’s track for Criterion’s DVD of Naked I was still surprised by how energetic and jovial he comes off here. It is a different type of film for Leigh (more in a technical nature at least, the film being a larger more grandiose production than what I was used to from Leigh at the time) and I think he rather enjoyed himself during the making of it because his excitement from talking about the film is almost catching. Aside from covering the technical nature of the film and praising the wonderful performances found within it, he talks a lot about the research that went into the production, down to trying to perfectly recreate the plays as they would have been shown back in 1885, and also points out the liberties he took (Gilbert wasn’t actually inspired to write The Mikado by the Japanese Exhibition he visits in the film, and certain conversations presented in the film between Gilbert and Sullivan were actually taken from letters.) And despite it not being at all necessary—I suspect Leigh’s desire to make real films about real people may cause him to do this—he does defend some choices he makes, like a moment where Broadbent’s Gilbert looks directly at the camera. He manages to carry on the track through the entirety of the film, with only a few dead spots where he would rather just watch. I’m a little disappointed that Criterion didn’t record a new track, the passage of time possibly allowing Leigh to look at it at more of a distance, this is still a fantastic track and one I absolutely recommend.
Following this is a conversation between director Mike Leigh and composer Gary Yershon, recorded in 2010 for this edition and running about 37-minutes. Unfortunately there is a minor amount of repetition found in here in comparison to the commentary but it also expands on a lot of material from it. The two talk about the film and the development of certain scenes, and also recall a lot of the material they found in their research for the film. They talk about Gilbert and Sullivan, their music and how it holds up, and also talk about the performers who are portrayed in the film. Leigh also mentions early on an alternate beginning he had planned. And despite Leigh still feeling that Gilbert and Sullivan are minor in the world of music (as he mentions in the commentary and the featurette that also appears in the supplements) he still enjoys the music and admits The Mikado is “a hoot.” Though I would have still liked a new commentary by the director this conversation is a nice compromise.
Next we get 4 deleted scenes running 14-minutes. Leigh mentions in the interview he had to cut the film down because of contractual obligations (and if I understood correctly he still made the film too long) but admits some of the material removed was repetitive. And to an extent the ones here are, a couple of them involving Sullivan lamenting about his desire to make a grand masterpiece. The other two sort of feel like extended scenes, one of which is in the Paris brothel and the other is actually a song cut from the film (“If Patriotic Sentiment is Wanted”). Worth viewing but I was a little annoyed by the lack of a “Play All” option, meaning you have to select each scene individually from the index.
A Sense of History is a 26-minute short film directed by Leigh and stars Topsy Turvy’s Jim Broadbent as the 23rd Earl of Leete, who talks about his land, his family, and his life. It starts out pretty much like a BBC profile you might catch on TV but then quickly and unexpectedly takes a turn towards the bizarre when the Earl turns the program into a confessional, and then it becomes absolutely surreal when he decides to perform a reenactment of a story he tells (not trying to spoil anything.) I loved it! A satire of sorts on the British ruling class it has a very dry yet dark wit, and Broadbent, who also wrote the short, pulls it off with what appears to be little effort, just disappearing into the character. Leigh’s direction, which perfectly captures the style of a serious BBC documentary, just makes it that much funnier. The final bit after the closing credits is also a nice little punch line. It’s incredibly funny and easily my favourite feature on here and one I will revisit. The short is unfortunately from a standard definition transfer and has been upscaled; it’s laced with compression artifacts unfortunately.
Criterion next includes the studio featurette that I’m pretty sure was included on the original DVD. It’s loaded with clips and is really a PR fluff piece, but it does have some decent material, featuring interviews with Leigh and actors Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner among others. In it the interviewees talk about the research that went into the film, Gilbert and Sullivan, and working on the film, all of which is accompanied by some behind-the-scenes footage from the set. Again a bit fluffy but it still contains some interesting information. The program runs around 10-minutes.
The disc then concludes with advertising material, starting with a theatrical trailer, 2 TV Spots, and a soundtrack advertisement.
The booklet features a short essay on Joge-e art, explaining the disc’s cover art. It’s then followed by an engaging essay by Amy Taubin about the film and how it fits in with Leigh’s other work.
In all that closes it. Only a few supplements but they’re all quite good and worth going through, nicely upgrading over the original DVD.
The image has a couple of problems but generally it looks good. The supplements are all great on the other hand (my personal favourite being the short film A Sense of History.) Overall a nice edition from Criterion and a substantial upgrade over the previous North American DVD.