This is really a delightful movie. It tells the story of the creation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most acclaimed masterpiece, The Mikado (if you’re wondering why I didn’t say their best, it’s because, while I love The Mikado, I still maintain that their greatest masterpiece will always be the more serious and ambitious The Yeomen of the Guard…but I digress).
The film showed a definite influence from the great Amadeus, both in its overall tone and in the way it uses music. The script is literate and genuinely witty, which is all the more amazing given that most of the film’s dialogue was essentially improvised.
Also, the authors have clearly done their homework. All the details about Gilbert and Sullivan’s collaboration are spot-on, from the nature of their cordially hateful working relationship to Sullivan’s defining hang-up about the supposed ‘importance’ of his High Classical compositions (and how tedious and forgettable those compositions actually were, displayed in a selection called “The Last Chord”, which is the film’s only, if understandable, subpar musical moment).
The film does make use of a few famous bits of apocrypha (like Gilbert being inspired to write the piece by a Japanese sword falling off his wall), but that’s certainly forgivable in a dramatization.
The musical portions (from Princess Ida, The Sorcerer, and of course The Mikado, with underscoring taken from other Gilbert and Sullivan scores) are beyond reproach, superbly sung and performed throughout. All the actors do an impressive job in embodying these famous historical personages convincingly without coming off as stiff or mannered, and the visuals are suitably sumptuous. One rarely sees a film as high-class and intelligent as this anymore, especially in the musical genre, so I recommend we all treasure it.