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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

The Professor and the Madman (M) - 125 minutes

Who would have thought there was so much intrigue in compiling the definitive Oxford English Dictionary and yet that there most certainly was.

The most unlikely story is brought to life in The Professor and the Madman, a tale of murder, forgiveness, love, diligence to the point of obsession and dogged determination.

The compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary began in 1857 and was one of the most ambitious and revolutionary projects ever undertaken.

Professor James Murray (Mel Gibson) took on the challenge of creating the most comprehensive dictionary ever compiled, recognising that compiling all known definitions for he and his team would take a very long time.

However, by “crowd sourcing” the work – that is by enlisting definitions from people all over the world – the dictionary could be compiled in mere decades.

As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee – led by Professor Murray – discovered that one man, Dr W.C. Minor (Sean Penn), had submitted more than ten thousand words.

When the committee insisted on honouring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr Minor – an American Civil War veteran – was a convicted murderer and being held at an asylum for the criminally insane.

That didn’t deter Professor Murray or the woman whose husband Dr Minor had murdered from getting to know him.

Mel Gibson is wonderful in the lead – passionate, exacting and regal.

Sean Penn brings to the fore the mental anguish of his deeply troubled character.

The supporting cast, too, play important roles in moving along the story.

The period detail, including costuming, is impressive, as are the visuals, transporting us back to the 19th century. The cinematographer is Kasper Tuxen (Beginners).

The Professor and the Madman is a film you need to stick with to get the most out of.

If you do, you – like me – should find it a rewarding experience.

My take home – never underestimate the power of words.

Rated M, The Professor and the Madman scores a 7½ to 8 out of 10.


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