The Professor And The Madman

The Professor And The Madman

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The Professor and the Madman follows the struggle to compile the first Oxford English Dictionary. Outstanding performances elevate this movie into a compelling story about friendship, redemption and the magic of words.

The Professor and the Madman is an intriguing cinematic journey that brings to life the astonishing true story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Directed by Farhad Safinia, under the pseudonym P.B. Shemran, and starring Mel Gibson and Sean Penn, the film encapsulates a beautiful but perplexing friendship between an academic and an inmate.

Rich in historical detail and emotional depth, the movie does an admirable job of illustrating how the most unlikely of relationships can contribute to one of the greatest intellectual feats in history.

What Is The Professor and the Madman About?

The film centres on Professor James Murray (Mel Gibson), a self-taught Scottish scholar, who takes on the enormous task of compiling the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

However, the magnitude of the endeavour becomes increasingly evident as Murray confronts the limitations of manpower and resources.

He is then introduced to a unique offer of assistance from an American Civil War veteran, Dr. William Chester Minor (Sean Penn), whose intellect and dedication match Murray's own ambitions.

As the two form an intellectual bond, Professor Murray remains unaware that William Minor is a patient at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, convicted of murder and suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

It's a relationship that forms the emotional core of the film. The dictionary project becomes therapeutic for Minor, who finds solace and purpose in contributing thousands of quotations to help with the definitions.

As the work progresses, Murray finally discovers the truth about Minor's institutionalisation and, shocked but not deterred, becomes an advocate for his peculiar but invaluable collaborator.

The Professor and the Madman Official Trailer

Is The Professor and the Madman Worth Watching?

Unfortunately on release, the film was panned by critics and audiences mostly stayed away. Post-production disputes between Gibson and Voltage Pictures meant the Hollywood legend refused to promote the movie. Ultimately it recouped just $7 million of its $25 million budget.

Commercially, The Professor and the Madman will go down as a flop. However, cinematically, this movie is far better than ticket sales suggest.

Mel Gibson and Sean Penn deliver captivating performances that lend weight and authenticity to their characters. Their on-screen chemistry brings an emotional richness to the relationship between Murray and Minor.

In fact, the whole cast is superb, including Natalie Dormer and Eddie Marsan. Victorian London is depicted in gritty realism, yet still looks strangely appealing.

The movie masterfully delves into various themes like redemption, mental illness, and the transformative power of education and intellectual pursuit. And manages to do so all while avoiding the traps of clichés and over-sentimentality.

Any criticisms are small but include pacing at certain points, which affects the overall narrative flow. Some scenes feel drawn out, causing moments of disconnect.

And like so many films, while the main characters are well fleshed out, some of the supporting roles seem like missed opportunities for adding further depth and context to the story.

Overall, this film won't appeal to everyone. Still, those who appreciate a well-made story with sharp dialogue will enjoy this movie and the performances of the cast.

Who knew the Oxford English Dictionary could be this enthralling (adjective, capturing and holding one's attention; fascinating).

Is The Professor and the Madman A True Story?

The film's story is based on the best-selling book The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester. Mel Gibson purchased the rights to the book back in 1999. I doubt he envisioned it would take almost 17 years to bring this incredible story to the big screen.

The film takes great care to create a period-appropriate setting, allowing the audience to fully immerse themselves in the late 19th-century academic world. From the props to the costume design, the attention to detail is commendable.

While the film adheres to many of the essential facts about Murray, Minor, and the dictionary project, it does take some liberties for the sake of storytelling.

In reality, Murray and Minor corresponded for years before Murray learned of Minor's institutionalisation at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. However, the emotional and intellectual connection they developed through their correspondence is true to history.

Dr. Minor did contribute thousands of quotations to the Oxford English Dictionary. He had an extensive personal library, and his work was highly valued by Murray and his team.

However, the movie introduces some fictional elements and relationships to enhance the emotional impact. For example, while the character of Eliza Merrett (Natalie Dormer) is based on the wife of the man Minor killed, her role in the film might be more dramatised than in real life.

Also, some events are compressed or reordered to fit the film's narrative requirements. This is a common practice in movies based on true stories to make them more engaging and coherent for viewers.

The Professor and the Madman Movie Cast

Mel Gibson (Daddy's Home 2) as Professor James Murray

Sean Penn as Dr. William Chester Minor

Natalie Dormer as Eliza Merrett

Eddie Marsan (Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Vesper) as Muncie, a guard at Broadmoor.

Jennifer Ehle as Ada Murray, Murray's second wife, mother of their 11 children

Jeremy Irvine as Charles Hall

David O'Hara as Church

Ioan Gruffudd as Henry Bradley

Stephen Dillane as Dr. Richard Brayne, alienist in charge at Broadmoor

Steve Coogan as Frederick James Furnivall

Brendan Patricks as Winston Churchill, Home Secretary

Laurence Fox as Philip Lyttelton Gell

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  • Penn & Gibson
  • Old School Storytelling
  • Music & Score


  • 20 Minutes Too Long


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