The Professor and the Madman (2019)

This is a serious film about a subject which, while fascinating, tends to be dry. It will not appeal to action film lovers, but many will find it interesting and absorbing. I did. The critics panned it, while the audiences liked it.

For 20 years Mel Gibson had owned the rights to the book by Simon Winchester on which the film was based:
The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words. It's film development started in 2016, eventually featuring Mel Gibson, Sean Penn, Eddie Marsan, Natalie Dormer, and Steve Coogan. It was directed by Farhad Safinia (as P.B. Sherman).

The central story concerns the Scot Scholar, Sir James Murray (Mel Gibson), who in 1879 took on the gargantuan task of chronicling each and every word in the English language into what is known since as the Oxford English Dictionary. The initial project ended up taking 10 years, and the final 12 volume set was not completed until 1928.

But the main focus of the film is on the assistance to the project by Dr. W.C. Minor (Sean Penn), a physician and scholar, who had heard about Murray's call for help, and had independently created 10,000 word usages which were eventually sent to Murray.

Murray went to visit Minor during Minor's residence at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, which formed a large chunk of the story. A parallel story was Minor's relationship with the widow (Natalie Dormer) of a man he had mistakenly shot dead during a schizophrenic episode.

The outstanding performance was from Sean Penn in a role whose breadth must have been impossible for Penn to turn down. In fact his assent for the role may have guaranteed funding. He will certainly get an Oscar nomination, and along with the benefit of his SJ cred, might just snap off the award.

There wasn't a weak portrayal in the cast. Gibson was believable with his Scot accent, and had the requisite gravitas to carry the main character. Dormer was first rate as the widow. Eddie Marsan and Steve Coogan were flawless in their roles.

There was some cinematic license taken with the real life story, but in the main the production gave a fair historical representation. Even Minor's self mutilation was truthful, so the sanguinary among you have something for which to look forward.

Doc's rating: 7/10