Carol Morley made quite a mark with her first feature, 2011’s Dreams of a Life. The subject of that film was a young London woman who died in her flat, tv on, Christmas presents wrapped at her feet; her body lay for two years before anyone thought to check on her. Isolation is very much the bogeyman of the modern world, and Morley’s film ably conveyed how, in an era where communication has never been easier, many people fall with ease through the cracks.
Artist Audrey Amiss might have suffered a similar fate; fortunately this kinda-biopic is upbeat and genuinely heart-warming. Amiss had her own brush with the established route of the artist, but ended up living alone and with diagnosis with paranoid schizophrenia, A skilled painter, Amiss has finished her period of creating ‘kitchen sink realism,’ and is willing to settle for being ‘avant garde and misunderstood,’ but even that label would require somebody to see her paintings and drawings. Kindly psychiatric nurse Sandra (Kelly Macdonald) agrees to drive Audrey the 200+ miles to Sunderland to offer her life’s work to an art gallery holding an open call of material to exhibit, but their road trip ends up something of a ‘circus of people’, ranging from disrupting a ‘church chair yoga’ class to a burst of Morris dancing.
‘It’s only when we get lost that we find ourselves,’ is the pre-loaded moral displayed here, and Morley overdoes the quirk at times: it’s a bit much seeing Sandra commandeering a tank to come to Audrey’s aid after her escape from a rapist leads her to becoming the star attraction at a local Renaissance Fair. Thelma and Louise is a reference point that gets mentioned here, but Typist Artist Pirate King borrows a little too often from the usual road movie clichés, with car-breakdowns and personal insights interspersed on a fairly tight pattern of narrative contrivances.
That said, Monica Dolan is terrific as Audrey Amiss, and there’s a clever bit of business with a photo booth that ingeniously connects this cinematic incantation of Amiss to the real, now-departed person. As a depiction of living with mental illness, Typist Artist Pirate King will find it hard to find an audience due to media stigma about mental health issues, but those who prefer to live in a real rather than airbrushed world will find something of value here, not least a sympathetic support performance from Macdonald. Whether it’s true to the artist or not, it feels a little twee to have Amiss ‘writing to the Sherlock Holmes society about my missing sock’, but the bigger picture offered by Morley’s upbeat film manages to garner some genuine affection for an eccentric British artistic type.
Typist Artist Pirate King is out from today (Oct 27th) in the UK.