A Beautiful Film With Astounding Performances
Putting aside what I think about Mel Gibson or Sean Penn’s personal lives and their public craziness, I am compelled to tell you this film may be on of the best films I’ve seen, despite its seemingly dull story line: how the world’s most comprehensive dictionary of the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), came into existence.
Beautifully made in Ireland, this film is more specifically about the OED’s first advocate, who was commissioned as its editor, self-educated Scotsman Sir James Murray (later granted a PhD.), played by Gibson, and his eventual relationship with the OED’s most prolific (over 10,000 entries) contributor American Civil War Army surgeon and veteran Dr. William Chester Minor played by Penn in what I consider to be his best performance to date, as a schizophrenic (most probably induced by what is now termed PTSD) 30+ year patient of the Asylum for the Criminally Insane in Broadmoor.
20 years ago Gibson bought the rights to “The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester. Though the star’s interest gave hope to the story’s being screen worth and marketable (this was much before Gibson’s making an ass of himself with his stormy private and public life), he decided not to direct, bringing in novice filmmaker Farhad Safinia, and shooting wrapped in 2016. That’s when grumblings began to be heard publicly.
Officially, Safinia and Gibson wanted to add a few weeks of shooting at Oxford University to boost the authenticity (the lion’s share of the film was made in Dublin, with Trinity College standing in for Oxford). Voltage Picture’s CEO Nicolas Chartier balked, complaining they’d already gone over-budget and exceeded the agreed-upon running time.
Gibson and his company Icon Productions sued to prevent the film’s release but lost (as of a week before its release, both Safinia and Gibson have settled with Voltage). Though Safinia’s name was summarily removed from the credits, it was replaced by the fictive P.B. Sherman, in the version that quietly trickled into a few international markets in March, and which ended up not being released to theaters in the U.S. on May 10th, but did end up on Amazon Prime Video. Curiously, the Voltage website still lists Safinia as director.
The point of all that background is that in my opinion, it’s almost tantamount to censorship in that this movie being sent directly to Amazon and Gibson’s Dragged Across Concrete, released 3/22/2019 on the Fandango Now streaming service, are both proof of what Hollywood has made happen to Gibson and his projects – the average movie goer may never get the opportunity to see them in a theater, or when they pop up in Video on Demand (VOD) platforms, will assume they’re not worth seeing because they didn’t get released in theaters.
If you ever find yourself thinking the later, please reconsider and watch it, even if the film’s star heeds otherwise out of protest, like Gibson has. Despite all of Hollywood’s political bullshit this is a great movie about a peculiar subject that turns out to be an outstanding treaty on acceptance, love, forgiveness and redemption. Trust me if you like period films with beautiful cinematography and powerful performances, The Professor and The Madman is worth $6.99 Amazon rental fee!
Above and below are two of my favorite scenes…
You’ll also be rewarded by the performances of:
Stephen Dillane (GoT’s Stannis Baratheon) as Dr Minor’s attending psychiatrist at Broadmoor, Dr Richard Brayne; Natalie Dormer (GoT’s Margaery Tyrell) as widow Eliza Merrett; Steve Coogan (Philomena, Stan & Ollie) as Frederick James Furnivall who introduced Murray to the Oxford Board; Eddie Marsan (Ray Donovan, Deadpool 2) as Muncie, Dr Minor’s principle attendant at Broadmoor; and Jennifer Ehle (The Wolf Hour and BBC’s Pride and Prejudice w/Colin Firth) as Murray’s long suffering yet supportive wife Ada, also mother of their eleven children – just to name a few others that delivered fine performances.
Remember to question why a movie that looks as if it may be great is getting bad reviews by Hollywood and “the critics,” don’t be swayed, especially by Rotten Tomatoes staff. If they’re available check out the audience/viewer’s commentary, then decide, but first, watch The Professor and The Madman!
I’m Outta Here! ~ Zadie G.