A compassionate attempt to appreciate a forgotten artist, Typist Artist Pirate King is a road trip like no other, creating an imagined adventure with paranoid schizophrenic Audrey Amiss and her social worker. Monica Dolan plays Amiss: born in Sunderland, she trained as painter at the Royal Academy before a mental break from which she never recovered kept her in and out of institutions for the rest of her life. Throughout this time however she furiously created art, whether it be via makeshift collages of her everyday existence, ice cream wrapper and wooden spoons, or squiggly impressionistic drawings and paintings, her creativity was continually expressed.
Carol Morley’s film creates a trip to Sunderland where Amiss aims to exhibit her work, with her long-suffering psychiatric nurse Sandra Panza – as Amiss names her – driving. Played by Kelly MacDonald, Sandra is a stoic foil to the exuberances and irritants of Amiss, their picaresque journey taking them visa B roads across the country from London to Sunderland. Along the way, Amiss imagines strangers as people from her past, leading to testy encounters in roadside cafes, with smug hitchhikers and pervy van drivers. All these moments are leading her to her estranged sister Dorothy (played by Gina McKee) in the hope of some sort of reconciliation.
Writer/director Morley uses the work she found of Amiss’ in the Wellcome Collection to fashion a tale of a frustrated artist in an expressionistic style. The film moves – sometimes jarringly – from moments of naturalism to flights of fancy, including Amiss being crowned during a medieval re-enactment and taken away by tank, but it remains an empathetic portrait of a talented woman whose work was compromised by her condition and attitudes towards her. Dolan by turn enchants and grates as the slippery, verbose Amiss, and MacDonald is a constant sponge – soaking up abuse, yet keeping support for her charge, even after Amiss drives her beloved electric car, Sunshine, into a tree.
Idiosyncratic and managing to capture the manic nature of Amiss’ condition, this quixotic road movie captures the tortured artist with in all her rawness. The title Typist Artist Pirate King comes from Amiss’ passport: it was her listed occupation.
Dir: Carol Morley (12A, 108 mins)
Typist Artist Pirate King is in cinemas on general release from Fri 27 Oct
A preview screening and Q&A with Carol Morley takes place at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff on Mon 23 Oct. Info: here
words KEIRON SELF