Writer-director Carol Morley’s latest dance with the unheard voices of the vulnerable is an acquired taste that’s worth championing
Despite exceptional appearances in Appropriate Adult, W1A, and The Thief, His Wife, and the Canoe, it’s possible audiences haven’t yet arrived at the conclusion that it’s Monica Dolan’s world – and we’re just living in it. Grappling with a portrayal of real life outskirt artist Audrey Amiss, Dolan propels her craft to higher ground in Carol Morley’s latest drama Typist Artist Pirate King. It’s a title that makes more sense when viewers hone in on the smaller details, with the film’s 106-minute runtime comprised of hidden artistic artefacts left to marinate in a sea of high tension and bombastic silliness. Countered by passive yet gentile psychiatric nurse Sandra (Kelly MacDonald), Amiss is now arguably getting the flowers she long yearned for when she was alive.
All the best stories start with a simple premise, which Typist Artist manages to build on with exceptional gravitas and emotional nuance. A far cry from Thelma & Louise, viewers follow the two women on a road trip of a lifetime, with Audrey hoping to track down an art exhibition space in her native Sunderland. The pair meet a plethora of faces along the way that are supposedly familiar, yet Audrey’s grasp on her past, present and future means these encounters aren’t always what they seem.
It’s up to the viewers to discern if Audrey has staunch memories or elusive fabrications, in the way that an art gallery might challenge perception and thinking. From the moment the audience is introduced to Audrey’s flat and frantic daily routines, they’re invited to be challenged. Not only are ideas surrounding mental health and the care available for it confronted head-on, but the meandering and often chaotic pacing of the film is an acquired taste – like a bemused mother wandering around an avant-garde installation, pretending to know what she’s talking about.
For those that sing to this artistic hymn sheet, Morley’s vision works like a charm. Never stagnating in the same emotional moment for too long, Audrey’s sense of self is both exhaustingly bewildering and pioneers the intellectual clarity held by a self-help guru. Kelly MacDonald is possibly underutilised, mildly going along with Audrey’s visions for no good reasons, with a fledgling backstory seldom explained. Though it would be nice to dig deeper into that, Typist Artist arguably doesn’t need the fluff, better off marching to the beat of its own drum. The fact that it’s a fairly unheard-of true story is only the icing on the surrealist cake, allowing viewers to peel back Audrey’s layers with the satisfaction of a binge-able documentary.
Though Morley’s unique direction is a credit to itself, it’s ultimately Monica Dolan’s performance that allows Typist Artist Pirate King to truly reverberate. Audrey might exist solely on Quavers, but Dolan brings this multifaceted artist to life in a dazzling array of colours.
Typist Artist Pirate King was screened as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2023. A UK release date is yet to be announced.Where to watch