Intimate portrait of Victorian theatre demigods Gilbert & Sullivan and the making of their musical masterpiece The Mikado. Leigh deserves kudos for taking such unusual subject matter and mounting a lavish, $15 million film about it. It's also a terrific examination of the creative process as we follow the composer and librettist through their individual writer's blocks in 1884 to the triumphant success of the Japanese-themed Mikado the following year.
That said, it is also very long, very slow, and very quiet. I enjoyed it – and I'm no student of Gilbert & Sullivan – but I would not recommend this film to the impatient. Leigh pays such attention to Victorian-era detail that this includes people being endlessly polite to each other and repressing their true feelings. There is also quite a bit of musical footage, and if you just aren't into G&S then you will find these lengthy scenes tiresome.
But as I said, I enjoyed it all. I liked the authentic period flavor, the dry humor (the always funny Jim Broadbent is hilarious as the endlessly grouchy Gilbert), and Leigh's wise decision to upturn the "Let's Put On a Show" story genre, reminding us that just because a creative work may triumph, it doesn't automatically make the artists' lives any happier or more fulfilled. It's a bittersweet afterthought, and it's absolutely true.