The Professor and the Madman - Review of the historical film by PB Shemran

Expected in our rooms for this March 21st The Professor and the Madman is a historical film written and directed by PB Shemran and who sees two great well-known faces: Mel Gibson (in the role of professor James Murray) is Sean Penn (who plays William Chester Minor) in pairs on the big screen to tell the collaboration, friendship and commitment that were used to create the first historical Oxford's English Dictionary in 1879.

Based on a true story

During the 124 minutes of film is mainly told the story of James Murray in the moment of his life in which he is commissioned by Oxford and to complete the work on the first ever English language dictionary. However, the creation of this collection of words serves mainly as a background to a film aimed at telling the life of this man, between marital problems and the important friendship with William Chester Minor.

The theme of friendship in particular, during the film takes on a considerable weight, managing to carry on the narration of the film which is divided between the life of Murray, shaken by disputes of mistrust with his wife, and that of Minor which (stated clinically insane after Civil War americana) develops a relationship with Eliza Merret (interpreted by Natalie Dormer) to which he killed her husband in 1872.

From A to Z

The film presents itself as an excellent historical film, truly accurate and detailed in the reproduction of the life, environments and customs of the mid-period 1800. Even i dialogues they have been adapted to the uses of the time, which helps the viewer to tie even more firmly to the mood of the film. Indeed PB Shemran ne The Professor and the Madman he immediately made it clear that the work does not want to exceed in spectacularity or drama but wants to be as much as possible true to reality (while introducing some classic elements of dramaturgy, absolutely not negligible in a story like this).

As previously said, the story moves on two different tracks: one dedicated to Murray and its history made of pure work commitment, and the other instead prepared for Minor and his troubled mental and sentimental situation with the widow Merret. The tracks on which the film moves are often fused together and linked mainly by the one common factor, which is the creation of the Dictionary. This narrative choice is very interesting, however weighs down the film to the point of making it extremely slow, with an excessively prolix preparatory need for situations. Although it is a work that tends to return experiences of real life (and therefore as such it almost requires slow and "experienced" situations), it is perhaps excessively lengthened, transforming everything into something decidedly difficult to digest. The film, despite this taint in the speed of action, serves itself well and also manages to be very interesting to the extent that one is prepared for an engaging history lesson. In fact, the film stages a very meticulous reconstruction of the London of those years.

La colonna sonora of the film is definitely of the highest levels, with songs and melodies capable of taking root very well on the film itself. But here too there is a small note to make, since the music suffers from excessive repetitiveness. In fact, the musical sector of the film, although it is well calibrated, is unexpectedly repetitive to the point that it seems to have a sort of disc in the background that continues to turn non-stop. Obviously it is clear that it is one purely stylistic choice - appreciable or not - however artistically speaking it is not a "wise move", since this thing further burdens the film.

Fortunately, to the rescue of these negative points comes the interpretation of the characters by visibly experienced actors and able to bring out their skills for the entire film, but also the setting, which has been so maniacally treated. While this does not represent the turning point that makes the film 100% enjoyable, it is a good place to start to get interested in watching this feature film.


Last but not least we can say that The Professor and the Madman is an excellent historical film in terms of accuracy, setting and interpretation. Unfortunately it has certain flaws that cannot go unnoticed, and however much they are subjectively considerable these, there are and must be taken into serious consideration. Through a piece of pure and simple English history, PB Shemran told and paid homage to the lives of two men who, despite the pressures and undeniable differences (due to the conditions of one and the other), united their minds to give life to something that was immediately clear to be the basis for the future of the English language. So there is no doubt that it is a cultural work that can only be appreciated, and delight fans of the genre.

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