Portland has a lot going for it if you’re a film fan. Apart from the usual offerings at the chain theaters, we’ve got Space Gallery, the Movies at the Museum, Geno’s, the Apohadion and the State Theatre, all committed to bringing us the most offbeat and often downright eccentric independent cinema around.

And of course there’s the Nickelodeon, right in the Old Port, which has proven itself a creative and committed friend to local filmmakers and film fans alike. From its generous hosting of screenings for local films and regular screenings of opera performances to its active role in presenting Maine film events like last year’s short-film festival and “Damnationland” premieres, the Nick makes Portland that much more rich, and fun, for the adventurous filmgoer.

It is perhaps with a view to that last group that on Saturday afternoon the Nick is hosting a screening of “Topsy Turvy,” director Mike Leigh’s 1999 biopic of famed comic opera creators Gilbert and Sullivan. It’s sponsored by the Longfellow Choral Festival to prime the crowd for a performance at 8 p.m. Saturday of a Sullivan piece at First Parish Church (425 Congress St.), and is another unique and welcome option for Portland film enthusiasts.

“Topsy Turvy” seems a grand departure for Leigh, who’s justifiably famous for creating insightful (and decidedly plot-light) character studies through a largely improvisational collaborative process in conjunction with his immensely talented stable of actors. (I’d highly recommend Leigh’s “Secrets and Lies,” “Naked,” “Career Girls” and this year’s “Another Year,” among others.)

A lavish biographical period piece such as “Topsy Turvy” would seem out of his wheelhouse, but Leigh (with regulars Jim Broadbent as Gilbert, theater vet Alan Corduner as Sullivan, Lesley Manville and Timothy Spall) turns the tumultuous creative period which gave birth to Gilbert and Sullivan’s heralded “Mikado” into a typically engrossing film that’s as much about the creative process as it is about Leigh’s traditional mastery of character.

And then there’s the music. Even if you’re not a G&S fan (and I am not, particularly), watching the temperamentally mismatched yet uniquely symbiotic duo overcome career doldrums and long-unexpressed resentments to rediscover the excitement of creating is exhilarating.

Broadbent’s Gilbert is especially delightful, his British stuffiness existing in baffling and hilarious tandem with the eccentric and fanciful plots he turns out. Corduner’s Sullivan, a frustrated classical composer (and secret libertine) longing to break away but clearly energized by Gilbert’s new idea, is more worldly and sadder than his partner. Watch the scene where he and his beloved mistress make a wrenching decision, their unspoken decorum preventing them from saying anything, yet, at the end, all has been decided. Stunning stuff.

For Gilbert and Sullivan fans, for Mike Leigh fans, and for film fans, the Nick is the place to be this week. 

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

 


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