Topsy-Turvy (1999)

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Released 5-Mar-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Theatrical Trailer
Audio Commentary
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 160:26 (Case: 159)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (84:50) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Mike Leigh
USA Films
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Jim Broadbent
Allan Corduner
Martin Savage
Timothy Spall
Shirley Henderson
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Carl Davies

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    One of the joys of reviewing movies is that occasionally you get to watch something that approaches a classic in something other than your preferred area of interest, and enjoy it immensely. Topsy-Turvy was that sort of movie for me. Not being a big fan of opera or the stage, this combined the best elements of both with my favourite format (movies) and comes up with a totally delightful account, fictitious though it may be, about the creation of one of the best loved comic operas of the last century, The Mikado. Gilbert and Sullivan are world-renowned for their collaborative efforts and the movie manages to bring back the best traditions of the old movie musical with a witty, informative and thoroughly enjoyable movie in all respects.

    Mike Leigh, the director of the movie, begins his journey by giving us some insight into the two main characters, Gilbert and Sullivan. It begins on opening night for a new production called Princess Ida which has the unfortunate timing to begin just around the time of a major heatwave that hits London. Sullivan, played by Alan Corduner, rises out of his sick bed to conduct the orchestra on opening night, while Gilbert, played by Jim Broadbent, scurries around with first night nerves. From here, director Mike Leigh develops the two main characters. Sullivan, the composer, is seen as an urbane, charming, witty and fun-loving person who enjoyed life to the fullest but is not in the best of health, whereas Gilbert, the lyricist was a more plebeian character who was more concerned with finances and whose humour seems to have come from some strange source since his own personality was decidedly deadpan.

    Leigh proceeds to show us these two men in decidedly different ways. The day after the opening night, we see Gilbert raging about the critics the next day, whereas Sullivan is in bed moaning to Helen Lenoir (Wendy Nottingham) and Richard D'Oyly Carte (Ron Cook), the manager and proprietor of the Savoy Theatre about his lack of creative direction and his desire to get well. D'Oyly and Helen both want him well and his decision to recuperate in Europe nurtures a hope that any dispute between the two creative halves can be resolved upon his return. While Sullivan is off recuperating in Europe, Gilbert spends his time flustering about the pitiful takings from the theatre, bemoaning the fact that after only a short run the Savoy is rerunning The Sorcerer in place of Princess Ida and trying to come up with a new operatic piece. Basically, the first 30 minutes of the movie moves very slowly and needs some concentration, since so much detail is contained but not explained. After this initial half hour, everything began to really kick along.

   After his return from Europe, a meeting between D'Oyly, Helen, Gilbert and Sullivan reaches an impasse with no hope of a compromise in sight. Gilbert has a new piece for Sullivan, but he isn't interested, believing it to be the same as everything else they have done to the point of repetition. Here they part company and all seems lost until Lucy Gilbert (Lesley Manville) convinces her husband to visit a Japanese exhibition taking place nearby. Against his will he goes and from here he derives the inspiration for one of the best-loved of their collaborations, The Mikado. In reality it probably wasn't like this at all, but that one scene where Jim Broadbent stares into the camera and smiles as the idea comes up for his new creation is a cinema classic in my opinion. After this, Leigh takes you on a journey into the development of the idea into a fully fleshed reality, including rehearsals, confrontations between management and performers, costuming and all manner of things which only a true lover of the theatre (which he is) would know and show with such panache.

    Throughout the movie there are various musical numbers, both from The Mikado and from other productions to break up the movie. A superb ensemble cast, including Martin Savage as George Grossmith, a highly neurotic actor who suffers major first night nerves, is joined by Kevin McKidd as Durward Lely, a man of sensitive, yet firm beliefs. Timothy Spall appears as Richard Temple, who plays the actual Mikado in the production, Shirley Henderson appears as Leonora Braham, a young woman with a little problem (she drinks too much) and a plethora of other excellent cameo roles intermingle with the two lead characters. There is a real sense of verisimilitude throughout the whole movie, not only with the use of real 19th century props but right down to the mannerisms, the talk and the gossip of the day. What you end up with is a movie over 2 and a half hours long that simply seems to fly by and is well worth the time taken to watch.

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Transfer Quality


    A movie as good as this demands an immaculate presentation and that's what you get. There is a real film quality in this presentation with few if any defects of note.

    The original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 was kept for this DVD and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    Clean, crisp, and precise is the order of the day with all objects in the foreground. There is fine detail aplenty here with only a hint of edge enhancement on offer (eg: 47:10 on a red coat during a scene from The Sorcerer). Background detail is only diminished by the sheer clutter on screen making it hard to discern all the background detail anyway. Depth is superbly maintained with no hint of grain to override the viewer's pleasure. Low level noise is not an issue at any stage.

    The colour is excellent with a huge palette in use, varying from deep browns and umbers for the typical wood panelling in vogue at that time all the way to the highly decorative and colourful costumes used on stage. Saturation levels were most satisfactory but no colour bleed was in evidence nor was there any sign of chroma noise. Skin tones were excellent and the overall effect was quite stunning in its variety.

    Film artefacts were almost unnoticed. The usual small flecks that normally are visible were either too small to see or covered by the background as to be totally absent. At 136:40 there is the merest hint of aliasing, the first I noticed throughout the entire movie, and apart from that it was blissfully clear of all other defects.

    There were no subtitles on this disc.

    The layer change occurs at 84:50 at the end of a scene between D'Oyly and Leonora just after he has had a private chat with her. It is nicely located and does not disturb the flow of the movie at all

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are two soundtracks on this disc, besides the audio commentary track. The first two are an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track at 448 kilobits per second and an alternative English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack at 224 kilobits per second. I stuck exclusively with the 5.1 track since this will probably be the soundtrack of choice for the vast majority of people. In keeping with the rest of the transfer, this is another stellar job. A large portion of the movie contains elements from various Gilbert and Sullivan operas which are beautifully reproduced both visually and aurally. The singing and orchestral sections are especially pleasing. There is a real depth to the music with good immersiveness from the rears and excellent separation across the fronts. The centre channel copes beautifully with the speech and singing allowing a full range of sound to be presented to the rest of the speakers.

    There were no problems with either syncing or dialogue intelligibility.

    The musical adaptation of the works of Sullivan was done by Carl Davies. There is an excellent selection from The Mikado itself, with other pieces from The Sorcerer, Patience and Princess Ida scattered around to add variety.

    The surrounds are used judiciously except during the musical numbers where they come into their own and add a real spaciousness to the sound. Apart from that, some sound effects and background music can be heard from time to time but they are not constantly dragging your attention away from the rest of the movie.

    You wouldn't typically expect a lot of activity from the .1 channel on a movie like this and when it does kick in it's actually quite surprising. Some excellent deep bass is evident throughout the movie - a typical example is at 13:31 where Sullivan is practising on his piano. Besides this, the subwoofer rumbles into life on occasion but is never overly used. Given the nature of the movie, that's not surprising.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio

    A static picture with music from the final song of the movie as an overlay.

Theatrical Trailer

    With a running time of 2:28, this is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is not 16x9 enhanced.

Audio Commentary

    Director Mike Leigh talks at length during this commentary about the preparation that went into not only the creating of the storyline, but also into getting the right look, feel and a real authenticity to the whole production. He initially starts off a little slowly (as does the movie) but his passion soon makes what he is saying very worthwhile listening to, since his obvious knowledge and research are extensive, all the way down to knowing every song/word and saying from all the various Gilbert and Sullivan operas. In addition, his excellent knowledge of the world of the theatre, back to the period this movie is set in, makes for a commentary with great authority. He might not be the most personable speaker I've ever heard doing a commentary, but I got engrossed listening to it and enjoyed it thoroughly. One slight problem with the audio is that the original movie soundtrack is very hollow beneath his voice, which was a little disconcerting at first.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 version of this disc contains

    The Region 4 version contains    Given the fact that some people don't rate audio commentaries that highly, it then becomes a choice as to whether you want the other features or not. Personally speaking, I am sticking with the Region 4 version, especially given its PAL presentation and its current pricing.


    Topsy-Turvy is one of the most entertaining movies I've seen this year. Mike Leigh really excels in his direction of this whimsical tale about the creation of one of the most enduring comic operas of all time, The Mikado. His knowledge of the theatre combined with a superb cast makes this movie so enjoyable the time just flies by.

    The video is quite superb with few problems, most of them very minor.

    An excellent audio accompaniment is offered with good use of the surrounds and the odd bump from the subwoofer to help things along.

    The only real extra is the audio commentary which is decent but will not be everyone's cup of tea.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Carl Berry (read my bio)
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD5300, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Xelos (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderRotel RSP-976. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationRotel RB 985 MkII
SpeakersJBL TLX16s Front Speakers, Polk Audio LS fx di/bipole Rear Speakers, Polk Audio CS350-LS Centre Speaker, M&KV-75 Subwoofer

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