Typist Artist Pirate King

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Typist Artist Pirate King
dir-scr Carol Morley
prd Ameenah Ayub Allen, Cairo Cannon
with Monica Dolan, Kelly Macdonald, Gina McKee, Kieran Bew, Christine Bottomley, Judith Chandler, Gary Bates, Kya Brame, Anand Toora, Paul Hamilton, Joanne Allen, Issam Al Ghussain
release UK 27.Oct.23
22/UK BFI 1h48

dolan macdonald mckee

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dolan and macdonald
Inspired by the life of under-appreciated British artist Audrey Amiss, this warm and offbeat road movie unfolds with a terrific sense of playful curiosity. Without resorting to obvious effects, writer-director Carol Morley takes the audience on a Gilliamesque journey into the lively imagination of a woman with mental health issues. The film continually avoids taking the expected route, which allows it to pack an unusually strong punch.
Prolific artist Audrey (Dolan) lives on her own in London, visited weekly by care worker Sandra (Macdonald), who has personal struggles of her own. Then Audrey convinces Sandra to drive her to her first exhibition, the hitch being that it's a seven-hour drive to her hometown Sunderland. Audrey is so energetic and volatile that the trip is constantly disrupted, as she imagines figures from her past everywhere along the road. Sandra gets help from various people along the way. And as they get closer, Audrey deflects Sandra's questions about her estranged younger sister Dorothy (McKee).
Telling the story through Audrey's imaginative eyes allows us to see what she sees, and Morley depicts this with clever in-camera effects. This inventively forces us to picture her reality ourselves, and to experience her mental state in a much more profound way than movies usually allow. Witty touches are everywhere, including in the way Audrey sees everyone she encounters as someone who made an impact on her life, providing an emotionally resonant back-story in a bracingly visceral way. This is the experience Sandra is having on-screen, and watching her attitudes shift is wonderful.

Both characters are brought to life in unusually full-bodied ways. Dolan delivers a proper tour de force as Audrey, shifting from quiet contemplation to aggressive confrontation in the blink of an eye, but also revelling in the joys she sees around her. Macdonald subtly reveals Sandra's internal journey as she is pulled into each situation, redefining how she has always seen mental illness and finding a surprising friendship in the process. And McKee shines radiantly in a smaller role later on, offering yet another new perspective.

Matching Audrey's freewheeling spirit, the film has a scrappy structure, while Morley punctuates scenes with Audrey's vivid artwork. This ranges from lovely realism to shattering abstracts, as paintings are revealed in pristine detail and also pasted right onto surfaces of various sets. This adds to the audience's experience of Audrey's point of view. So even if she is disruptive and often utterly exasperating, there's a depth of feeling that fully wins us over.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 7.Sep.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall