Mike Leigh’s first venture into the musical and out-and-out costume drama, this is the story of how playwright W. S. Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) and composer Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner) created The Mikado (1885), the comic opera that saved their careers.

It brings to life the nature of creative partnerships, the world of musical theatre, and the wider life of Victorian society, shown in all its richness, hypocrisy and savage energy. Mike Leigh is always tremendous observer of relationships, but here he demonstrates his deeper political concerns, without labouring them, and the film is brilliantly art-directed to reconstruct the period. Victorian England was just going crazy for all things Japanese. The film is rather more successful as a response to history than the much-ballyhooed Peterloo (2018).

People are sniffy about G&S, which is a shame, but The Mikado is irresistible: the Japanese plot is silly and funny, a satire on British politics with very little to do with the Far Was, and the costumes and music are delightful.

The cast of the show-within-the-show, who include Timothy Spall and Shirley Henderson (above), did their own singing, which is suitably imperfect. The Mikado is now problematical in liberal America, due to protests by what Wikipedia calls ‘the Asian-American blogosphere’. Their loss. The Japanese themselves rather like it.

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