The Professor and the Madman

The professor and the madman is a 2019 film directed by the Iranian movie director P. B. Shemran, a pseudonym of Farhad Safinia. The film is a film adaptation of the book The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words written, in 1998, by Simon Winchester.

If this dictionary will see the light it will be only thanks to two men: a professor and a madman!


It tells the story of the editing of the Oxford English Dictionary.

The main theme is therefore the titanic undertaking: trying to identify and explain every word in English, a task that began in 1879 and ended in 1928 with the tenth volume. The story, however, does not flow monotonously, but intertwines with the lives of the protagonists: James Murray (Mel Gibson) is the self-taught professor in charge of the company, a man of immense culture and eager to provide everyone with the wealth of knowledge acquired; William Chester Minor (Sean Penn), an ex-American doctor who participated in the Civil War, also a man of great culture, but who lives his life between lucidity and madness.

To accomplish the task, Murray involves the common people: he invites everyone to send as many words as possible:

We will ask volunteers to dig into their lives and find the words they use every day and then ask them to send them to us.


The research, however, stops almost immediately; and this is where the “madman” comes into play. Admitted to an asylum because he was judged mentally ill after committing a murder, William learns about the company and sends numerous letters that allow the professor to exit the impasse and publish the first part of the dictionary.

Between the two, in addition to the epistolary relationship, a splendid friendship is born.

The film is almost always alive because, as I said, it narrates not only the editorial enterprise, but the lives of the two protagonists and strikes, in particular, the story of William woven with suffering, guilt and missed loves (the relationship with the wife of the man killed by the same Minor, in a fit of madness).

In a speech before the professors of the University of Oxford, in defense of William, Murray touches, in my opinion, one of the highest points of the film recalling the dignity of the human being, the possibility of redemption and the duty of society and every man to help people in need.

Every life, despite everything, is worthy of being lived and appreciated.

Giovanni Covino

The Professor And The Madman Official Trailer

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