Professor and the Madman
Mel Gibson and Sean Penn star in this creaky drama which was disowned by Gibson after endless problems and lawsuits during production – and if Mad Mel disowns a movie, then it’s got to be a mess.
Drawn from the true story of Professor James Murray (Gibson) who began compiling the Oxford Dictionary in 1879 and let the thing overtake his life, it suffers from myriad issues: iffy playing; a glum look; questionable facts; the revelation that it was shot at Trinity College, Ireland, and nowhere near Oxford; too many speechifying blokes with too many fake beards; and more.
polymath Murray is given a hard time when he approaches the Oxford bods to
contribute to the dictionary, and the stuffy academic guys ponder whether they
should allow a Scotsman to get involved (and, to be fair, Gibson does sound
almost Scottish – almost). When the professor starts working with words he
rarely sees his family. As the years pass, he also begins to communicate with
brilliant Dr Minor (Penn), an American Civil War veteran being held at
Broadmoor psychiatric hospital after committing a murder while in the grip of
When Murray and Minor meet there
might be vague pleasure in seeing these big names together onscreen for the
first time, but these moments are jarring because Gibson (an instinctual actor)
and Penn (a sometimes ridiculously Method performer) seem such an odd match –
even if that’s kind of the point. But they’re the whole show anyway, and
overshadow Steve Coogan (in a few scenes as Murray’s friend Frederick James
Furnivall), Eddie Marsan (as Broadmoor guard Muncie), and Game of Thrones
actor Natalie Dormer (as Eliza Merrett, widow of Minor’s victim and the only
woman here who properly gets a word in edgeways).
feature from screenwriter-turned-director Farhad Safinia (using the pseudonym
‘P.B. Shemran’ to show his disgust at the post-production fiddling), this
perhaps isn’t quite as dire as Gibson would have you believe – but it’s
certainly not good.
Professor and the Madman (M) is in cinemas now