Mel Gibson and Sean Penn are both actors that tend to divide opinion among movie fans, but with two Academy Awards each, you can’t deny that they’re among the finest talents of their generation, regardless of how you feel about their personal beliefs or opinions. So throw them together in a prestige drama about the creation of the dictionary and you’ve got… well, you’ve got something that will interest some people a lot more than others.
The Professor and the Madman is a biographical period drama that stars Gibson as the former and Penn as the latter, which is admittedly simplifying things an awful lot. The Lethal Weapon star plays Professor James Murray, who undergoes the arduous task of compiling the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in the 1870s. Gathering up the definition for every word in existence is no easy task, but one helpful fellow submits over 10,000 entries, only for it to be revealed that the generous contributor is a patient in a lunatic asylum.
All the ingredients were there for fairly transparent Oscar bait, and Gibson was even set to direct at one stage before handing the reins over to Farhad Safinia, who scripted his jaw-dropping action thriller Apocalypto. However, Safinia ended up taking a credit under the pseudonym of P.B. Sherman after a series of legal issues saw the director and two stars disown the final product completely.
As a result, The Professor and the Madman sat on the shelf for close to three years before being dumped onto VOD, and it arrives on Netflix next month on December 15th, where it could either be the latest surprising entry in the Top 10 most-watched list or completely sink without a trace.