Typist Artist Pirate King

Monica Dolan brings energy and conviction to her performance as unsung artist Audrey Amiss in this biopic road movie from Carol Morley

Film Review by Carmen Paddock | 24 Oct 2023
  • Typist Artist Pirate King
Film title: Typist Artist Pirate King
Director: Carol Morley
Starring: Monica Dolan, Kelly Macdonald, Gina McKee
Release date: 27 Oct
Certificate: 12A

In 2013, Audrey Amiss passed away just shy of her 80th birthday. The vast collection of her art discovered after her death – as well as her unconventional life, shaded by mental illness – forms the basis of writer-director Carol Morley’s quasi-biopic. The film’s title is taken from Amiss’s own passport, where she wrote 'Typist, Artist, Pirate, King' under 'Occupation'. Typist Artist Pirate King follows one imaginary road trip where, subjected to another routine fortnightly psychiatric check-up, she spins the day into a cross-country odyssey through memories and fantasies – all the way from Clapham to Sunderland.

Monica Dolan brings irrepressible energy and full conviction to Audrey, never playing the stereotype of a diagnosis or a 'tortured' artist. In her hands, Audrey becomes a singular force with an uncompromising worldview. As the put-upon nurse Sandra (gleefully termed “Sandra Panza” by Audrey, much to Sandra’s chagrin), Kelly Macdonald is a perfect straight woman. Amiss spoke extensively about traumatic experiences with mental health professionals, and this truth is witnessed in Dolan’s impassioned delivery of Audrey’s memories. That said, by writing Sandra as fundamentally sympathetic, supported by Macdonald’s warm presence, Morley allows Sandra – as an audience surrogate – to believably explore new ways of seeing trees, time and old relations.

The tendency towards sentimentality is baked into the narrative, and while there is too much that is clean and cathartic in a story of a woman whose life was long and unwieldy, these are forms cinema works well within. The two lead performances make the unexpected journey worthwhile.

Released 27 Oct by Modern Films; certificate 12A