The Professor and the Madman film review: convoluted melodrama

Mel Gibson as James Murray and Sean Penn as William Minor in The Professor and the Madman.
Mel Gibson as James Murray and Sean Penn as William Minor in The Professor and the Madman.

IT is a bad omen for a film when both the lead actor and director have attempted to stop it from being released.

When production company Voltage Pictures denied Mel Gibson and Farhad Safinia’s request to film additional scenes in Oxford, with the majority filmed in Ireland due to costs, they took legal action which they lost in 2018.

As a result Safinia is credited under the pseudonym P.B. Shemran and Mel Gibson, despite this being a passion project of his, has refused to do press.

However it is unlikely a few reshoots would have made this film any better.

Gibson plays the Scottish James Murray, a self-taught professor who is hired to create the first Oxford English Dictionary, a seemingly impossible undertaking.

Natalie Dormer as Mrs Merrett.

His idea to enlist the public to send in words and corresponding quotations is a great success, especially when a Dr William Minor (Sean Penn) sends upwards of 10,000 entries.

Minor also happens to be locked up in Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum after his paranoid delusions lead him to kill a man.

The film’s biggest flaw is over dramatising everything when the real-life story is fascinating in its own right.

While the supporting cast of well known English actors offer solid performances, Gibson and Penn’s extravagant accents are often unintelligible, not great for a film about words.

The story of the dictionary gets left behind in favour of vilifying Victorian treatment methods for mental illness, which convolutes the film’s main message of the beauty of language and how it evolves.

The Professor and the Madman (M)

Director: P.B. Shemran

Starring: Mel Gibson, Sean Penn, Natalie Dormer

Two and a half stars

Now showing

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