the professor and the madman

DIRECTOR: P.B. Shemran (debut)
STARRING: mel gibson, sean penn, eddie marsan and natalie dormer

 

REVIEWER: lyall carter

Professor James Murray begins work compiling words for the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in the mid 19th century, and receives over 10,000 entries from a patient at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, Dr. William Minor.

Who thought that a movie about the creation of the Oxford dictionary could be even remotely entertaining? Maybe Susie Dent from Countdown but that's about it. However The Professor and the Madman is a thoroughly entertaining period drama with power house performances from Gibson and Penn.

 

Professor James Murray begins work on compiling words for the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in the mid-19th century. As he leads the overseeing committee, the professor receives over 10,000 entries from one source in particular - a patient at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, Dr William Minor.

 

I remember that as a present for doing well on a school assignment I was gifted a dictionary - a pretty expensive gift back in the day. Now in the age of Google and auto correct, real physical dictionaries appear to be on the way out. But so often we forget in our fast paced world how human progress actually occurred. The story of The Professor and the Madman is not only an entertaining film, but highly educational and a great reminder to us all of the wonder of human endeavor. 

 

The Professor and the Madman engages you from the very opening scene as Dr. William Minor is in the dock, accused of murder. The story chugs along at a great pace as we discover Professor James Murray’s obsessive quest to compile the first Oxford dictionary. 

 

While the film feels a little flabby in the middle, the beginning and conclusion of the film more than makes up for that. As well as covering the historical tale, The Professor and the Madman poignantly explores themes of the horrific burden of guilt, the ability of everyone, no matter their afflictions, to make a valuable contribution to society and the power of forgiveness. 

 

This film is bursting at the scenes with acting talent. The fact that Ioan Grufford and Jeremy Irvine are barely in the film talks to how chocker full this film is. It truly is an ensemble cast. But this is Gibson and Penn’s movie. 

 

Since he’s spent so much time behind the camera instead of in front of it in recent years, you forget how wondrous Gibson really is as an actor. And here he is sublime, giving a very subtle yet powerful performance. 

 

Penn comes close to the line of melodramatic instead of magnificent at times but manages to keep away from it, giving one of his very best performances. 

 

The Professor and the Madman is a thoroughly entertaining period drama with power house performances from Gibson and Penn.

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