The Professor and the Madman (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The Professor and the Madman
The Professor and the Madman (film).png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byP. B. Shemran
Screenplay by
  • Todd Komarnicki
  • P. B. Shemran
Based onThe Surgeon of Crowthorne
by Simon Winchester
Produced by
CinematographyKasper Tuxen
Edited byDino Jonsater
Music byBear McCreary
Distributed byVertical Entertainment
Release date
  • May 10, 2019 (2019-05-10) (United States)
Running time
124 minutes
  • United States
  • France
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
Budget$25 million[1]
Box office$6.2 million[2]

The Professor and the Madman is a 2019 biographical drama film directed by Farhad Safinia (under the pseudonym P. B. Shemran), from a screenplay by Safinia and Todd Komarnicki based on the 1998 book The Surgeon of Crowthorne (published in the United States as The Professor and the Madman) by Simon Winchester. It stars Mel Gibson, Sean Penn, Natalie Dormer, Eddie Marsan, Jennifer Ehle, Jeremy Irvine, David O'Hara, Ioan Gruffudd, Stephen Dillane, and Steve Coogan.

The film is about professor James Murray, who in 1879 became director of an Oxford University Press project, The New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (now known as the Oxford English Dictionary) and the man who became his friend and colleague, W. C. Minor, a doctor who submitted more than 10,000 entries while he was confined at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum at Crowthorne after being found not guilty of murder due to insanity.

Shot in Dublin in 2016, the film became part of a legal battle between Gibson and Safinia against Voltage Pictures, delaying its release until 2019 and resulting in the pair disowning the final product.


In London in 1872, William Chester Minor, a retired United States Army surgeon, is found not guilty by reason of insanity for killing an innocent stranger, George Merrett, and is sent to Broadmoor.

In Oxford, James Murray interviews for a position as editor of what will become the Oxford English Dictionary. An autodidact, he left school at 14 and has no degree. Some Oxford University Press oversight committee members are contemptuous, but Freddie Furnivall describes their current "abject defeat", saying that the extraordinary Murray may be what they need. When Max Müller haughtily asks for qualifications, Murray reels off the long list of ancient and modern languages in which he is proficient[3] and on demand provides a definition—and probable origins—of the word "clever".

Over dinner with the committee, Murray hears opposing views. Müller insists that it capture English at its current "purest peak" and setting strict rules for correct speech. Furnivall says that "all words are valid in the language. Ancient or new, obsolete or robust on, foreign born or homegrown. The book must inventory every word, every nuance, every twist of etymology and every possible illustrated citation from every English author. All of it or nothing at all."

Murray has a solution to this daunting task: Enlist volunteers from everywhere English is spoken. He writes an appeal to English-speaking people around the world, asking them to send their contributions on slips of paper. Booksellers, librarians and newsagents distribute it. The slips pile up.

Meanwhile, Doctor Brayne receives Minor, who is tormented by flashbacks to the American Civil War. In a moment of lucidity, he saves a guard's life by amputating his leg. He asks that most of his army pension be given to Eliza Merrett, his victim's widow. Muncie, a guard, delivers it personally. She refuses. Dr. Brayne promises to protect him from his pursuer, gives him room to paint and allows him his library of rare books.

Eliza turns to prostitution. When Muncie brings Christmas dinner to the family, she asks to see Minor and accepts his support. Muncie and the guards give Minor a book containing Murray's appeal. Minor tells Brayne that he will be "all right" with this work and more books. Soon a profusion of slips lines his room. Minor submits 1,000 slips to Murray and offers to take on the most elusive words, giving his address as "Crowthorne". The correspondence between Minor and Murray continues.

Eliza returns to thank Minor. He says his life belongs to her.

Murray arrives at Broadmoor unannounced, bringing a fascicle to Minor believing that he is a staff member. Murray eventually sees the shackles but is not daunted. "You are not alone—consanguineous", he says. Brayne encourages his visits.

Minor offers to teach Eliza to read and write. "It is freedom", he says. Brayne has hope, but one day Eliza kisses Minor. That night, crying "I have killed him again in your heart", Minor cuts off his penis, sends his library to Murray and withdraws, sending even Murray away.

Vol. 1 is published. Murray receives an honorary doctorate from Oxford and Jowett and Gell plot to remove him.

A newspaper publishes an article about the madman and the dictionary. Murray rushes to Broadmoor to find Minor unresponsive. Eliza brings him out of it.

Jowett tells Murray that he will soon lose his post, but Furnivall reassures him: He has some "tricks" for Jowett and Gell.

Eliza asks Murray, "If I've forgiven him, why should they go on punishing him?" They get a hearing but Minor cannot be released. Furnivall and Murray appeal to the home secretary, Winston Churchill, who has Minor deported to the United States. Murray comes to say good bye. Furnivall has a copy of the dictionary's new cover, bearing a royal seal of patronage, granted to "Dr James A. H. Murray". "The fortunate thing about these awful people is they believe in the divine right of rule ... So we use it against them. Your book is safe, James. You are safe at its helm ..."

"Now? Now Dr. Murray is the dictionary", Jowett tells Gell, suggesting he take a trip.

The film ends with Murray and his family in the garden,[4] over text that describes the fates of the professor, the madman and the book.



French director Luc Besson handed Mel Gibson the project, saying, "It isn't my first language. Maybe you can do something with this."[5] Gibson, who originally intended to direct, hired his Apocalypto co-screenwriter Farhad Safinia to replace him, while he remained in the role of James Murray. Sean Penn entered early talks to join the film as William Chester Minor in August 2016.[6] In August, Natalie Dormer signed on for a role.[7] In September, Ioan Gruffudd joined the cast.[8]

Filming commenced in Dublin in September 2016.[9][10]

Legal issues[edit]

In July 2017, Gibson and his production company Icon Productions sued the production company Voltage Pictures over their desire to control certain aspects of the production. Among other things, it was alleged that Voltage Pictures refused to schedule a "critical” five days of filming in Oxford and that the director was denied final cut privileges.[11][12]

On June 19, 2018, Judge Ruth Kwan of the Los Angeles County Superior Court denied Gibson's motion for summary adjudication.[13] The multiple lawsuits were the subject of a confidential settlement in April 2019. Gibson and Safinia issued statements distancing themselves from the project and calling the version released by Voltage "a bitter disappointment".[14] They did not participate in the promotion of the film. Safinia was not recognized for directing or co-writing the film, being credited instead under a pseudonym, "P. B. Shemran".[15]


Theatrical release in markets outside the U.S. began in March and April 2019. In January 2019, Vertical Entertainment acquired U.S. distribution rights to the film.[16] The U.S. release date was May 10, 2019, with simultaneous limited theatrical release and video on demand.[17]

Home media[edit]

The film was released in the United States through Vertical Entertainment on digital download on May 10, 2019 and DVD on August 13, 2019 by Lionsgate Films.[18][19] It was released through the movie rental company Redbox on Blu-ray Disc.[20] It was widely released on DVD in the United States on the same date.[21]

Critical reception[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 43%, based on 30 reviews, with an average rating of 5.50/10.[22] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 27 out of 100, based on five critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[23]

Nick Allen of gave the film 1½ out of 4 stars, calling it "the latest fiasco in bad movie history... the presence of Gibson and his co-star Sean Penn give the project a stuffy sanctimoniousness."[24] Likewise, Jay Weissberg, reviewing for Variety, was more critical and stated: "For those that have been anticipating this curious, much-delayed oddity, the good news is that Gibson is fine; it's everything else that doesn't work."[25]

In contrast, Tara McNamara, writing for Common Sense Media, said that: "Despite the fact that both the star/producer and the director have disavowed it, this isn't a bad film; it's beautifully shot and sensationally acted, and it tells a fascinating real-life story."[26]


  1. ^ Maddaus, Gene (22 September 2017). "Judge Denies Director's Bid to Seize and Destroy 'The Professor and the Madman'".
  2. ^ "The Professor and the Madman (2019) – Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  3. ^ The list available in the Wikipedia article on Murray.
  4. ^ Murray's wife, Ada, vanishes abruptly in the kind of shot that might be used to suggest that she had died. In fact, she outlived her husband by many years, dying in 1936 at the age of 90.
  5. ^ The Professor and the Madman, Interview and link to offical [sic] trailer, retrieved 2021-06-30
  6. ^ Jaafar, Ali (2 August 2016). "Sean Penn In Early Talks To Join Mel Gibson In 'Professor And The Madman'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  7. ^ "'Game of Thrones' Star Natalie Dormer Joins Sean Penn, Mel Gibson in 'Professor and the Madman' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  8. ^ Lodderhose, Diana (30 September 2016). "Ioan Gruffudd Joins Mel Gibson & Sean Penn For 'The Professor And The Madman'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  9. ^ "Braveheart Mel returns to the screen as a Borders teacher". Border Telegraph. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  10. ^ Barnes, Julie-Anne (18 December 2016). "Mel Gibson plays a Scot in new film but won't face ridicule for accent this time". Daily Record. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  11. ^ Maddaus, Gene (2017-08-01). "Mel Gibson Sues Voltage Pictures Over Final Cut of 'Professor and the Madman'". Variety. Retrieved 2017-09-08.
  12. ^ "Mel Gibson Sues Producer for Sabotaging "Labor of Love" Film". The Hollywood Reporter. 31 July 2017. Archived from the original on 24 December 2017. Retrieved 3 February 2019.
  13. ^ Gardner, Eriq (20 June 2018). "Mel Gibson Loses Court Bid to Reclaim Rights to 'Madman' Film". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  14. ^ Patten, Dominic (2019-04-06). "Mel Gibson On 'The Professor & The Madman' 'Disappointment' & Legal Battle". Deadline. Retrieved 2019-08-04.
  15. ^ Barfield, Charles. "'The Professor And The Madman' Trailer: Mel Gibson & Sean Penn Star In Film That Has Been Involved In Real-Life Legal Drama". Retrieved 8 February 2019.
  16. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (January 14, 2019). "Mel Gibson's 'The Professor And The Madman' To Get Theatrical Release Via Vertical After Legal Fight". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  17. ^ Barfield, Charles (March 26, 2019). "'The Professor & The Madman' Trailer: Bearded Mel Gibson & Sean Penn Write The Dictionary". The Playlist. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  18. ^ "The Professor and the Madman digital". May 10, 2019. Retrieved January 31, 2020.
  19. ^ "The Professor and the Madman DVD". August 13, 2019. Retrieved January 31, 2020.
  20. ^ "The Professor and the Madman Blu-ray". 2019. Retrieved January 31, 2020.
  21. ^ Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  22. ^ "The Professor and the Madman (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 18, 2020.
  23. ^ "The Professor and the Madman Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved October 25, 2021.
  24. ^ Allen, Nick. "The Professor and the Madman Movie Review (2019) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved 2019-05-11.
  25. ^ Weissberg, Jay (11 April 2019). "Film Review: Mel Gibson in 'The Professor and the Madman'". Variety. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  26. ^ "The professor and the madman". Common Sense Media. 2019-05-11. Retrieved 29 December 2019.

External links[edit]