Written and directed by Mike Leigh

Performances are outstanding throughout, and Broadbent, known on these shores for Brazil, Time Bandits and Little Voice, is an exemplary Gilbert -- stodgy but always harboring a carefully veiled glimmer. Equally superb is Corduner (The Impostors), who invests Sullivan with the prickly sensibilities of an artist working miracles below what he deems the full extent of his potential. Special kudos also to Spall, Savage, McKidd and Henderson, whose work onstage, in both The Sorcerer and The Mikado, is spellbinding (plus they've got terrific voices, especially McKidd and Henderson).

Leigh's work in theater has paid off in his technical direction as well, for the Savoy comes alive for the performances, with each luminous shot lovingly composed. Because the Savoy was the first public building in the world to be lit with the use of electricity, Leigh and his designers have worked the novel new lights into many of the shots as well, adding both a quaintness and (along with Gilbert's clumsy use of a new contraption called the telephone) a sense of rapidly advancing modernization. It's also worth mentioning that Robin Sales' editing, especially between the performers and cutaways to the audience, is so fluid that the operas seem less filmed than live.

Katrin Cartlidge and Allan Corduner in Topsy-Turvy, a masterful film about the magic of performance
Katrin Cartlidge and Allan Corduner in Topsy-Turvy, a masterful film about the magic of performance

It's pretty likely that audiences will take some time to warm up to the Victorian charm of Topsy-Turvy. (Besides, by today's sophisticated standards, Gilbert's century-old Mikado makes Eric Idle's friendly, left-handed "I Like Chinese" seem like an Asian pride anthem.) It would be easy to compare this film to John Turturro's recent (and equally glowing) Illuminata, but Leigh is a more mature artist and unhindered by Turturro's pretensions. Instead, think of Topsy-Turvy as this year's Amadeus, a masterful film about the magic of performance and the foibles of the artists behind it.

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