Glasgow Film Festival: Typist Artist Pirate King and the Misunderstood

Audrey Amiss was an English artist who was formally trained until her bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia led to decades of institutionalization.

Typist-artist Pirate King dramatizes her life after a recent discovery of her work. Her story is an interesting character study framed as a simple road movie.

Audrey’s artistic style reflects the severity of her illnesses, the realism of her days at the Royal Academy slowly fading into crude abstract and emotional strokes. She loses the ability and technique she once had, relying solely on her innate intuition instead.

The artworks function as intertextual snapshots of the events in her life, each style reflecting her state of mind at the time. Because the film looks at a younger Audrey, the perspective of her art is much closer to reality than the works documenting her younger life.

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When a young hitchhiking artist tells Audrey he likes outsider art, she scoffs at the debasement. After all, being defined as an outsider artist is an inherently limiting way of describing something free from convention. The question is whether this label is uplifting or an exercise in “otherness” from an exclusive and elitist art world.

Monica Dolan gives a strong performance as Audrey, capturing the unbridled Yorkshire spirit that flows through their conversation. Her portrayal would sit well in a Mike Leigh film, exuding a conflicting strangeness and realism that makes her character dynamic and real.

Kelly Macdonald plays a social worker named Sandra who acts as the straight woman for Audrey’s rather wacky behavior. She keeps her and the viewer grounded in reality, a responsive force for each unique process going on in Audrey’s mind.

Sandra’s role and institutionalization considerations challenge the state’s ability to help people with mental illness.

Audrey is very suspicious of government aid, having been locked in factory-like pens for decades. As conditions change and social care becomes the primary source of help for the mentally ill, continued cuts in funding for such services only lead to the same misunderstanding. Sandra tries her best but clearly doesn’t have the resources to deal with someone as intense and complicated as Audrey.


While Audrey is an engaging and dynamic character, the film is rarely truly from her perspective. It stands in a reactive position rather than allowing itself to be fully immersed in their world. A character study, it revels in observation and eschews the less-trodden path of more fully embodying her inwardness.

The moment we clearly switch into her point of view provides a visual metaphor for one of the film’s emotional arcs, but feels a bit out of place. Audrey’s character and personality is portrayed in such depth that it’s almost a shame that one unfiltered moment in her conscience doesn’t offer particularly big insights beyond simple resolution.

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There’s enough room to play around with the veracity, as the film itself proves. When Audrey Sandra escapes and rides in a man’s van, his sudden inclination to grope her is cartoonishly evil. Without Sandra around, we have to trust Audrey’s experience of events and wonder how much of a reliable narrator she is. The van parks suspiciously, lending credence to her interpretation, but what actually happens is fascinating if you can only rely on her heightened sense of reality.

Regardless, Typist Artist Pirate King is an incredibly sympathetic study of Audrey Amiss, the art she produced and her fragmentary progression, failure to understand mental illness and the system that surrounds it, and the process of a creator’s hands. She’s not an outsider artist, she’s just avant-garde and misunderstood. Glasgow Film Festival: Typist Artist Pirate King and the Misunderstood

Grace Reader

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