Typist Artist Pirate King (2023)

October 20th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Carol Morley; Cast: Monica Dolan, Kelly McDonald, Gina McKee; UK 2023. 108 min.

Carol Morley is best known for her debut Dream of a Life, a docudrama about a woman who suffered a lonely death in North London. The British filmmaker is now on rescue mission for UK artist Audrey Amiss (1933-2013) whose posthumous output was made over to the Welcome Trust.

Morley unearths of prodigious output that included 47 books. A passport states that the bearer is the titular ‘Typist, Artist, Pirate King’. Indeed, Amiss was born in Sunderland in the early 1933s before drifting down south where she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia that put paid to her studies at London’s Royal Academy. What followed was a life of “revolving doors”, in and out of institutions.

Morley has decided to stage this as a garrulous road movie Amiss (Dolan) literally trapping her psychiatric nurse Sandra (Macdonald) in a trip from South London to Sunderland- claiming the north east as her spiritual home. The reason for the trip is an exhibition of her paintings in Sunderland – which feels much stuck in a time-warp. But Audrey enjoys the ride via car and bus much more than her long-suffering companion (“Sandra Panza”). Aubrey is shrill and aggressive, harping on about the past and those, now long gone,  who have either done her harm or abetted her against countless enemies. She finally admits her fall in a ravine was due to poor eyesight, rather than the fault of her sister Dorothy (McKee), as she had claimed all along.

Monica Dolan gives a feisty, over-the-top performance as Amiss, but it somehow works against the film’s cause: the rehabilitation of an artist who called out the advent of the UK’s consumer society, and media domination. Morley frames her protagonist as a martyr, but also an unpalatable one, largely due to the farcical comedy treatment which not only mocks Amiss but also, sadly, her affliction. Thus she emerges very much more as a pirate than a creative worthy of her cause.

Imaginatively shot by French DoP Agnes Godard, Typist triumphs despite Morley’s direction and script. Somewhere along the road, this talented filmmaker loses the reins, leaving Amiss as her worst enemy rather than a figure to be celebrated. A forthcoming biography should shed more light on the life of this worthwhile British artist. AS


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