Typist Artist Pirate King review by Pat Byrne

typist artist pIrate king

Carol Morley’s film Typist Artist Pirate King had its UK Premiere at Glasgow Film Festival 2023

Carol Morley wrote and directed the film Typist Artist Pirate King inspired by the artist Audrey Amiss. While undertaking a screenwriting fellowship at Wellcome Trust the filmmaker researched Amiss’s vast archive and became fascinated by the artist. In the late 50s she studied at the Royal Academy of Art  but could not complete her course when diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.  Although continuing to produce art throughout her life she was not a known artist.

Morley’s film stars Monica Dolan as Audrey Amiss and Kelly Macdonald as her psychiatric nurse, Sandra.  The title: Typist Artist Pirate King is taken from the occupation Audrey gave in her passport.  

Sandra visits Audrey every two weeks in her London flat where she appears to live in her pyjamas, frenetically painting, collecting and recording her art. She is unmedicated and suffers from delusions including the belief that her neighbours are abusing her by remote control. Sandra’s calm and matter of fact demeanour is in marked contrast to Audrey as she accepts the onslaught of rudeness and criticism piled upon her by her client.  

The film plays out as a quirky, tragicomic road movie when Audrey tricks Sandra into driving her to a ‘local’ gallery that turns out not to be in London but in Sunderland, Audrey’s home town. Andrey is convinced she can exhibit her work at the gallery and bullies Sandra into agreeing.

Their journey is exhausting. Audrey’s dedication to her art is relentless and she never stops sketching and collecting anything that captures her interest including packaging and leaflets.  With her incessant, nonsensical chatter and bizarre ideas she pushes Sandra’s patience to the limit. They also encounter true danger such as when Audrey crashes their car and then takes off with a lecherous lorry driver. She is in danger of being sectioned under the mental health act when the police are called after a particularly violent outburst in a hotel reception.

There’s also a lot of laughter and Audrey’s disinhibition draws Sandra into joyful experiences including a heartwarming scene when they join in with Morris Dancers in the street. The film throws up the question of what and who we choose to define as crazy; when Audrey is welcomed into an outdoor amdram troupe’s re-enactment of a historic event and takes up her position on the throne, both appear equally bizarre.

Along the way the relationship that develops between Audrey and Sandra shifts from patient/carer to one of friendship with Dolan and Macdonald capturing a very believable dynamic.

Gabe (Keiran Bews) the convenient, kindly driver they pick up slides smoothly into his role of supporting the pair, finding a home for Audrey’s art and helping to hook her up with her sister Dorothy (Gina McKee) in an attempt to resolve their estrangement.

It’s a film of compassion and sadness and demonstrates how mental illness can steal someone’s potential but there is also joy and laughter – Carol Morley does well to capture all of that. Audrey’s view of the world, with her unrealistic expectations, delusions and misinterpretations, makes her life exciting. The film serves to shine a light on the reluctance of many with mental illness to accept medication that dulls such a vivid, if an often frightening and fragile, existence.

Typist Artist Pirate King was my favourite film at GFF23. 

Pat Byrne, March, 2023

How Carol Morley purchased an Audrey Amiss painting ‘Portrait of a Girl’ (The Guardian, December, 2022)

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This section: Cinema, Film reviews, Glasgow Film Festival 2023

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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