Film

Typist Artist Pirate King review – a warm-hearted, clear-eyed tribute to a neglected artist

Typist Artist Pirate King, is a quirky, intense and ultimately heartwarming road movie that explores the life of a forgotten talent

Two women on a beach

Kelly Macdonald and Monica Dolan take an intense road trip in Typist Artist Pirate King, in cinemas from 27 October

Hot wheels: between the government’s U-turn on banning fossil fuel vehicles by 2030 and militant motorists complaining about 20mph zones, it feels like cars have been hogging a lot of space in the political conversation recently. There’s no escape at the pictures, either. This week sees the release of a vehicle-centric movies that features its own sort of internal combustions: the brilliantly titled Typist Artist Pirate King, which is what we are told young rebel Audrey Amiss cheekily scrawled into her passport under “occupation”.

An aspiring artist from working-class Sunderland roots, Audrey’s talent for painting got her into the Royal Academy. But a mental breakdown in her final year set her on a different course. When we meet the middle-aged Audrey, played by Monica Dolan, she is living alone in a cramped London flat, chugging sugary drinks and compulsively scrapbooking her existence by turning hoarded food wrappers into a sort of diary.

After enduring a lifetime of mental health issues, Audrey is outspoken and unpredictable, a high-intensity chatterbox who can lurch from warm humour to caustic sarcasm. Much of this boisterous but draining energy is directed at her community psychiatric nurse Sandra (Kelly Macdonald), who is dealing with issues of her own. After a particularly intense visit, Sandra finds herself agreeing to chauffeur Audrey to a gallery that is apparently seeking to exhibit work from local artists; a last chance for validation.

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So the pair set off in Sandra’s bright yellow electric car – a dinky Nissan Leaf nicknamed “Sunshine” – for what turns out to be an extended drive. (“Thelma and Louise, eh?” chuckles Sandra.) It also becomes a moving journey through the artist’s formative years, as she greets the various strangers they meet along the way as if they were faces from her past.

These encounters give Sandra and us valuable context for Audrey’s formative traumas, but her manic outbursts and accusations tend to freak people out. In a sustained, selfless performance Dolan does little to smooth off any of Audrey’s pricklier edges. 

So it is an intense, often stressful road trip. Poor little Sunshine gets pushed to the limit and beyond. But there are lighter moments too, from Audrey seeing the ineffable beauty in a humble Quavers crisp to an unexpectedly considerate encounter with a battle re-enactment society.

The more you get to know Audrey – especially as seen through the compassionate eyes of Sandra – the more you hope her quixotic quest will lead to some sort of catharsis. 

The ending manages to be both surprising and deeply moving. Perhaps that is because writer-director Carol Morley, who become obsessed with Amiss after discovering her uncatalogued sketches and diaries, opted to create a fictional story to shine a light on this overlooked artist.

It is an atypical, slightly eccentric move but one perhaps Audrey herself – who died in 2013 – would have appreciated. Hopefully this warm-hearted but clear-eyed tribute will be a first step toward bringing her work and life story to a wider audience.

Typist Artist Pirate King is in cinemas from 27 October. Graeme Virtue is a film and TV critic.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

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