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Typist Artist Pirate King ★★★★



Director: Carol Morley

Cast: Monica Dolan, Kelly Macdonald, Gina McKee

ReleaseGlasgow Film Festival 2023

When protecting our mental health, getting to a place we consider stable can be a long and winding road. The psychological scars can take a lifetime to repair as we look to land on a coping mechanism that works explicitly for us. Obvious candidates? The right form of medication or therapy to ease our ailments, to make sense of and shed light on her complicated world.

For British artist Audrey Amiss, she prescribed herself the power of art. Brought to life on-screen by a splendid Monica Dolan, complete with a wacky title inspired by the specified occupation on her passport. Carol Morley’s Typist Artist Pirate King is an affectionate ode to a misunderstood artist.

She is bursting out of the kitchen sink school of realism. Whilst living on a diet wildly consisting of ‘treats’ like custard creams and Fruit Shoots that fit her boundless child-like enthusiasm. Audrey (Dolan) considers her body of work avant-garde, with her scrapbook of scribbles and torn-apart packaging of everyday items, an eclectic treasure trove. She is combative regarding her schizophrenia diagnosis, yet adamant, ‘it’s not a failure to be mentally ill.’

Their fight over time has worn down her committed psychiatric nurse Sandra (Kelly Macdonald), who, in one instance, is declared unresponsive as a corpse in her regular dealings with Audrey. Prepared to pack it all in on her last day of service, Sandra instead travels light in her trustee yellow Nissan, Sunshine, for an impromptu road trip to Sunderland. She declared a matter of urgency by Audrey. She deems the journey a final attempt to garner recognition for her creative efforts that she believes are long overdue.

Interjecting proceedings with eye-catching examples of her work. Offering Audrey in death the wonderfully curated exhibit a wider audience could rightly appreciate. A palpable fondness and warmth persist throughout the film—already expressing eclectic taste through her early work. The eccentricity of its central figure proves an ideal fit for Morley’s distinctive style as we become immersed in the vivid chaotic headspace of Audrey. Reconnecting with a former art teacher now committed to their popular church chair yoga classes. Peculiar situations to the viewer undoubtedly blur the lines of reality. But there is no mockery of Audrey in these heightened moments, considering them her ‘beacons of light’ in a world that can take perverse pleasure in the underlying sickness and ailing of others.

When that sickness rears its ugly head, especially in a post-COVID climate where the conversation around mental health has intensified, Morley finds excellent emotional depth in examining the firm stances of both healthcare professionals and patients, with both sides perturbed. The most telling sequence n a former psychiatric hospital is now in ruins, serving as a visual metaphor for how rundown services are and how bleak our thoughts can be when we are left in the darkness. Blaming today’s wider society for jumping to rushed and often extreme conclusions not necessarily the individual who conceals or confronts their trauma.

Anchoring the film with such exuberance, Monica Dolan is an absolute delight as Audrey. Whether she’s unknowingly causing hassle in a moment of confusion or somehow finding a creative quip about the curve of a Quaver, you can’t help but buy into her atypical worldview, which leaves you both moved and charmed. Keeping her company, helping to form the kind of sisterly bond that has eluded Audrey. The subtlety in Kelly Macdonald’s mild-mannered nurse balances out her chaotic counterpart in a refined style, drawing out plenty of hilarity in their interactions along this unlikely journey.

Like many a road movie mirroring life, there are a couple of stumbles along the way to its preferred destination. Yet Typist Artist Pirate King paints a brilliantly astute portrait of mental health, validating arts and culture as therapeutic tools we can’t restrict access to.

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