❉ Carol Morley’s films always have a beating heart to them and her latest is no exception, writes James Collingwood.
“Really it’s a tragic life plagued by years of psychiatric issues and some of the suffering past and present is harrowingly depicted in the film but it is also a celebration of an eccentric life and a fascinating artist. “
Carol Morley’s films always have a beating heart to them and her new film is no exception. Typist Artist Pirate King appeared at several film festivals to critical acclaim and is a sometimes troubling but often joyous imaginary depiction of the life of unknown artist Audrey Amiss. Now on general release across the country, and starring Monica Dolan as Amiss and Kelly Macdonald as her community psychiatric nurse, it’s a road movie with a difference.
Many of Carol’s films deal with real life stories about real life characters with real life psychological hang ups. Dreams of a Life dealt with tragic death of Joyce Vincent whose body lay undiscovered for two years after her death whilst the autobiographical Alcohol Years chronicled Carol’s own teenage life in Manchester. Typist Artist Pirate King is in a similar vein and is based on research into the Audrey Amiss archive at the Wellcome Institute in London – an idiosyncratic collection of scrapbooks, drawings and diary entries from this talented but psychologically troubled artist.
Amiss travelled all over the world despite suffering from various psychological conditions throughout her life and the title of the film comes from her pastime inscription on her old passport “Typist, Artist, Pirate, King”, reflecting her teenage promise at the Royal Academy of Art, her work for 30 years as a typist and her wild and original imagination. As the Kelly Macdonald character says to her when being shown her passport “Did they let you put that?”
The plot is mainly concerned with the journey of the two main characters to a “local” art gallery in Sunderland (in fact hundreds of miles away!) where Audrey plans to show her work. The seven-hour journey from London (initially in a clapped-out yellow car called “sunshine”) is full of incident. Audrey Amiss suffered from the condition “people misidentification syndrome” which meant she associated people she met with people in her past. Hitchhikers, yoga teachers down and outs and vicars met on the journey represent people in Amiss’s past life and allow Carol Morley to depict this past life without using flashbacks. Along with Amiss’s other quirky psychological facets this creates a slightly dream like road movie with obvious references to Don Quixote. Audrey gives her travel companion and psychiatric nurse the nickname Sandra Panza for example.
Amiss is a self-absorbed character brilliantly played by Dolan. Her paranoia, quirky imagination and erratic behaviour means that you often feel sorry for her poor suffering companion played by Macdonald. Audrey’s behaviour is always on the edge but is dealt with sympathetically by the director who also can play with the idea of the inconsistency that concepts of time, place and social interaction have in a chaotic mind.
The film ultimately ends with the two arriving at the Sunderland destination, heading to a reconciliation with Audrey’s estranged sister (played by Gina McKee) and acting out a childhood trauma at Heber’s Ghyll in Ilkley West Yorkshire – an area of woodland at the edge of a moor which is actually a few miles from where I live and which I am very familiar with. Past and present reality blur here in a kind of West Yorkshire film magic realism! The director of photography on the film is Agnes Godard who as well as working with Carol Morley previously has also worked with Wim Wenders and Claire Denis.
Really it’s a tragic life plagued by years of psychiatric issues and some of the suffering past and present is harrowingly depicted in the film but it is also a celebration of an eccentric life and a fascinating artist. There are also some beautiful surreal and funny touches in the film. Keep an eye on the names on the road signs when you watch for example and with see what happens when the two get their pictures taken in a photobooth– it’s genius. The artwork is used beautifully throughout the film and in the brilliant closing credits and the music is great. You’ll also never listen to Boy George’s “King of Everything” in quite the same way again. A touching and fascinating film by one of the best directors of the last 20 years.
❉ ‘Typist Artist Pirate King’, the new film by Carol Morley, is currently screening nationwide.
❉ James Collingwood is based in West Yorkshire and has been writing for a number of years. He currently also writes for the Bradford Review magazine for which he has conducted more than 30 interviews and has covered music, film and theatre. His Twitter is @JamesCollingwo1