I came across this film while browsing on Amazon Prime. I was looking for something so that I might avoid the misery of watching the news and its endless litany of death and blame. Despite its big name stars, Mel Gibson and Sean Penn, and capable cast (Natalie Dormer, Steve Cougan, Laurence Fox, to name a few), I had not heard of it. I checked online and it was free from awards, aside from a nomination for the musical score, and had rather lacklustre reviews which told more of the politics of the film’s manufacture than of the film itself. However, user reviews were good so, trusting in the hive mind and the wisdom of crowds, I decided to give it a try. That, in summary, is how I discovered one of the best films made in recent years.

This is a drama documentary about the creation of a dictionary and the story of two men who are thrown together in this task. One is a Scottish autodidact. a polyglot or rare intelligence who is supported by his wife, and his faith, in his diligent attempt at a mammoth task. He fights against prejudice and doubt and stands steadfast despite setbacks. The other is an American doctor who, while insane with schizophrenia and labouring under delusional beliefs, shoots and kills the father and breadwinner of a poor London family. He is incarcerated in in an asylum and must face and cope with his delusions, depression , guilt and remorse. Like the Scot he is helped in his battle by his faith, his intelligence and the support and intervention of a woman (on his part, the widow of the man he killed).

This is a fascinating story well told. The acting is consistently good. accents authentic and emotion convincingly displayed. Likewise the dialogue is well written and entertaining, and as a bonus will expand your vocabulary – you will know what ‘assythment‘ means at the end if you did not at the beginning. But perhaps most importantly you will know the answer to the question “If Love … Then What?“; as, in addition to language, the most important theme of the film is that of love and redemption. It deals with them through issues of guilt, diligence and honour but does manage to consider these in a real sense, not in a glib way, and to consider more difficult aspects such as Agape and Grace.

I perhaps should not have been surprised or wary that the film garnered no awards or that its review were lukewarm. I knew Mel Gibson remains a persona non grata in media circles and would be unlikely to be given any gongs. But having seen the film I understand the empty awards shelf. A film driven by drama rather than action, entertaining with thoughts rather than deeds, a film celebrating moral steadfastness rather then the joys of transgression, a film that wasn’t riding on the back of any current bandwagon but looking at more basic principles, a film wondering at the love we can have form one and other without any sexual reward – how on earth could such a film win any wards ? It is probably too late for it to be recognised now and it may disappear into the bargain basement bin of films on free to view channels, but if you get the opportunity to see it and are in the mood for something moving then this is worth a few hours of your time.

5 thoughts on “The Professor and the Madman (2019)

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