We interviewed director Carole Morley back in 2019, when her stylish neo-noir Out of Blue screened at the Glasgow Film Festival. She was good-humoured and thoughtful, and hinted at her next project. Here we are four years later, and the fruits of her labour screened at this year’s Festival. A fictionalised account of a road trip taken by the late artist Audrey Amias and her psychiatric nurse Sandra Panza, the film is assuredly Morley’s most mature work.
Ammis and her art were discovered after her death in 2013. She spent much of her life in psychiatric wards and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Morely found her archive of sketches and diaries, and fashioned a script that takes us on a journey through Ammis’ past and trauma. Amiss persuades Sandra to take her to Sunderland to finally exhibit some of her art, a road trip narrative that realistically depicts highs and lows, laughs and sorrows.
Those who caught Out of Blue may be surprised by the subject matter and approach of Typist Artist Pirate King. Shot in a standard, realistic style, Morley proves her versatility as a filmmaker, and crafts a film that is hugely sympathetic to its protagonist. Monica Dolan puts in a nuanced, believable performance as Amiss. She captures the extreme mood swings and delusional, paranoid episodes of the untreated schizophrenic. Yet, she retains a playful sense of humour and ability to face up to her past with the strength of her being. In one scene when she comes across a psychiatric ward she was kept in, abandoned and dilapidated, has an undercurrent of quiet dramatic power as she describes what occurred there. Kelly Macdonald as Sandra offsets this extroverted style with low-key emotional resonance, acting as Audrey’s crutch despite her own recent issues.
Typist Artist Pirate King is framed by Amiss’ artwork, some like a journal of her days and others showing her undoubted talent with a brush. This points to the experience of many artists, a profession so difficult to leave a lasting legacy in. Morley totally bypasses stereotypes of mental illness, and both Sandra and Amiss feel fully realised. Some scenes come off as a little contrived and too surreal for the realistic shell of the movie, such as when the pair come across a medieval battle enactment and things suddenly become an ancient play. For the most part, the film succeeds in depicting two damaged people that are searching for peace, and find it in their bond and in unlikely places.