33 thoughts on “Taking a Turn With Topsy-Turvy (1999)

    1. Also D’Oyly, not Doyle. Please consult with a true Savoyard like myself before you write this stuff.

      1. There is correcting politely and there is being a rude creature. I know many a “true Savoyard” and they understand the value of manners and know how to provide information with dignity and courtesy so everyone can be on an even playing field and not belittle them with overblown arrogance.

        Take a seat now, dear. The adults are talking.

  1. As I remember this fun movie, I think it did point up the racism, ignorance, and stereotypes of the period, don’t remember it being oblivious or cringeworthy..
    I also quite agree with you about those 6 English actors. Over the decades, I’ve observed the steady, predictable rotation of a few stars that seem to appear in every movie and TV series, from Cherie Lunghi and Anthony Andrews to Michelle Dockery and Jim Broadbent…

  2. Is it so terrible to be made uncomfortable by genuine period ideas? I don’t think so. And for what it’s worth the Japanese treated westerners like people in a zoo too. We were the Others and e optics to them.

    1. I’m PoC. It’s exhausting to get beaten over the head with micro and macro aggressions in media, fandom and elsewhere. “Historical accuracy” doesn’t make things less painful.

      1. Have been considering your comment, Saraquill. What historical movies do you find non-aggressive, whether accurate or not-so-accurate?

        (Being white, I don’t claim to understand; as a woman, I think of male-directed films where the “feisty” girlfriend of whatever century is a journalist or something, but is never shown working or contributing to the plot. Not to mention that beachy hair…)

      2. I think the difference is when uncomfortable period ideas are questioned or not. Now, this can be heavy-handed & look like an attempt to modernize (or make “politically correct”) a historical piece, so I understand that it’s not easy. And Topsy Turvy was made two decades ago, so that film itself is not exactly up to date.

        Tho’ for one example, I point to my favorite MAS*H — because it was made in the 1970s & early ’80s, & when it depicted historically accurate racist & sexist 1950s characters, they were often shown as the ‘bad guys’ & the butt of jokes. It can be done.

        1. Oh, god, poor Frank. And, really, one couldn’t dislike Frank, if only because it was so much fun to laugh at him. And Margaret Houlihan’s character grew and gained in dignity over the years.

  3. I was surprised to read that the actresses refused to wear a corset.That too underneath a kimono.
    It is strange that cinema resorts to simplification and overt dramatisation of race and gender issues,when things were so complicated back then.Modern cinematic productions rarely indulge in racism to such degree,but script the situation in a fashion that contradicts the norms of the day.I felt terrible the way this race issue was handled in the Sanditon adaptation.SO.MUCH.DRAMA.And though this movie had a more historical practice as a plot point(something that might have been considered common in Victorian society),reducing it to a comic incident certainly ruffles my feathers.We don’t expect to be represented as martyrs or paragon of purity.We have existed as long back as the history of mankind goes,and we only expect to be represented as humans.Neither as uncivilized barbarians,nor some unidimensional mentor/sidekick/lackey to the MrPerfect.Flaws make a character relatable,not some dramatic coincidences that humans don’t chance upon in the uninhibited flow of their mundane existence.The uncivilized barbarian and white saviour trope has been unashamedly celebrated for a long time.Maybe I see just one side of the coin as a non white,still.
    The costumes though are interesting and really pretty.

    1. Sorry it should read refused to go without a corset
      Where art thou,edit comment board,when myself needs thee most?

  4. This film is on my top list just for the performances of Shirley Henderson and Timothy Spall and how they manage Victorian costumes. As a G&S fan, Mike Leigh’s genius rates for me in his matching actors to the originals (Kevin McKidd played a Scotsman – look them all up on Wikipedia) was perfect (the actors do their own singing). The poignancy between Lenora Branham’s (played by Ms. Henderson) two lives – her personal life and her theatrical persona is touching — especially the contrast between Ms. Branham’s alcoholic demons and her portrayal of the narcissistic Yum-Yum. The end makes me cry everytime — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rP2qJXT3olM.

  5. Talking about British actors who have gone on from here – the choreographer, Andy Serkis, has done a fantastic job with motion capture technique in The Lird of the Ring films and the Planet if the Apes series. I LOVE the costumes of this show. It was the first time I had seen a man (one of the lead singers in the dressing room) in a CORSET!! Revelation. And as a milliner I drooled over their hats. And being American, I had not grown up on the G & S canon as my English husband had so the whole Mikado story was new to me and had to go rent a version so I could see the whole thing through.

    1. Also, did you realise that the prissy lead singer who wouldn’t perform without his corset was Kevin McKidd, who played the hunky, macho Lucius Vorenus in Rome???

  6. I adore this film. Not just because I love Gilbert & Sullivan (though Mikado is not one of my favourites – that would be Iolanthe or The Yeomen of the Guard) but because it’s such a love letter to theatre.

  7. I haven’t watched this in years, but I remember being delighted that it showed the actors wearing corsets as well as the actresses. The exhibition of Japanese culture was uncomfortable, in the same way that reading about a lot of late 19th century “anthropological exhibitions” can be – a very clear example of racism.

    Mostly I remember it as a film showing how exasperating and over the top theatre productions can be.

  8. Honestly, I’m with you re: bustle era clothing. I like looking at them, but hate the idea of wearing the style – or sewing it…

  9. This film introduced me to Allan Corduner, who I think is a wonderful, underrated actor. In this particular film his visage perfectly fits the era (in my opinion).

  10. I firmly believe that if the costuming hadn’t been so accurate, the film would have collapsed under the weight of its own barely restrained ridiculousness.

    I never felt that the costumes were the center of “Topsy Turvy”, so I find it hard to believe that barely accurate costumes would have allowed the film to collapse. Which is why I find it even harder to regard it as “ridiculous”.

  11. I have loved this film since it first came out. As a historian, I take any era warts and all and try not to view its society or cultural values through modern eyes or with modern judgements. I just enjoyed this film for its fairly accurate portrayal of the times and the people. And loved the clothes. I might not want to wear them, but I admire the detailing in the making. Have a few original bustle dresses in my personal collection and just love the design thought that went into them. Thanks for getting up close and personal with these costumes and helping me enjoy them all over again. Time to get out the DVD and have another watch.

  12. The bottom line is that I really keep wanting to apologize for liking this movie as much as I do, because it is super problematic as a modern film dealing with race, cultural appropriation, and Otherness.

    I don’t understand this comment. Did you expect the movie’s characters to be culturally sensitive? In late Victorian London?

  13. I’m don’t think Sullivan was the person relying on morphine. It was George Grovesmith.

  14. I really like Topsy Turvy when I saw the movie, and I am glad to see this review. I’m a bit disappointed that so much space in the review was taken up with metaphorical breast beating about feeling guilty about how the Victorians were culturally uninformed about other nations, etc. etc.

    A film, by design, is telling a story. All stories have points of view. This film was a trip to 1880s London, during the height of the Victorian empire. The actors were necessarily playing a part- displaying all their contemporary attitudes and beliefs, and they succeeded in that brilliantly.

    The actors were very close facsimiles of their real-life Victorian counterparts. I would have liked to have heard more about Gilbert’s obliviousness when it came to what “men and women” do in the privacy of their bedroom – Leslie Mandeville gave a masterfully restrained performance as a long-suffering wife who had to put up with a bullying martinet of a husband.
    George Grosmith’s cocaine habit was a revelation, as was Lenora Braham’s suggested alcoholism.

  15. I love this movie. Adore Shirley Henderson beyond words. Wish I could find it at a reasonable price.

  16. “Honestly, the entire costume-fitting scene in the movie is pure genius and will ring very true to anyone who has ever worked as a costume designer.” And it features Alison Steadman, a.k.a. the best Mrs. Bennett, as the costumer!

  17. So… Gilbert (of Gilbert & Sullivan)… was a weaboo? The FIRST weaboo?

    Oh my god, this explains so much.

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