Unseen for decades and described by Peter Sellers' biographer Roger Lewis as a lost classic, this gently melancholy, bittersweet character comedy sees the enigmatic Sellers in engrossing form as a poor, provincial French schoolteacher slowly corrupted by big business. A fine array of actors, including Herbert Lom, Billie Whitelaw and Leo McKern, provide support for Sellers – who also directed.
Meek teacher Topaze, expertly played by Sellers at the peak of his powers, is a quiet man at the heart of a noisy film, surrounded by other characters writ large. Scripted by Pierre Rouve from a play by Marcel Pagnol, and Sellers' only credited feature as director, it was shot just as his first marriage was disintegrating. Speaking at the time to Herbert Kretzmer, who wrote the lyrics to I Like Money, the song featured in the film, Sellers confessed that it was only work keeping him going. "I've never been so low in my life. The days were all right. The days I worked. I worked non-stop. I set out to lose myself in work," he confessed. Available for the first time in decades, Sellers' performance in this unjustly neglected film certainly validates those efforts.