Mr Turner: Movie Review
Cast: Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson
Director: Mike Leigh
Renowned directorial miserabilist Mike Leigh teams up once again with actor Timothy Spall to bring to life the final 25 years of the canvas of Brit painter JMW Turner.
In this biopic, we witness the life of Turner as he rambles from one moment to the next in this relatively plotless film that makes more of its garish characters than anything else.
As we join Turner in a truly gorgeous opening shot with windmills in the background, Leigh pans to reveal the silhouette of the relatively rotund artist delighting in his daubings. It's a moody yet whistfully evocative shot that sets the tone for the piece as it shows how far Turner will go for his art, how dismissive of his apparent family he was - other than his beloved father, his interactions with other artists at the Royal Academy of Arts and his trips away to another wife and another life.
Throughout all the swirling of life's great canvas and negotiating through this 150 minute journey is Leigh regular and Brit stalwart Spall. He's already collected accolades for this portrayal of the relatively unlikeable man, who grunts his way through interactions like some kind of superior pig, revelling in acrylic muck. But throughout the bottom-gruelling biopic, Spall is the guiding light within as Leigh's direction and script do little to pander to the cultural ignoramuses who may attend this.
Some of Spall's best scenes come when he lets Turner's guard down; a fumbling desperate sexual encounter with his housekeeper, a breakdown after his father's death while attempting to draw a prostitute and an interest in the invention of the camera towards the end of his life show a man creatively trapped and lacking the respect and the public admiration from his time. Spall does little to hide his Turner from the vile, and uses it to his advantage bringing the man vividly to life.
While Leigh's eye for the visual is never anything less than stunning, with seaside vistas and shots of Turner tied to a ship's mast to help his recreation for his art being just two of the moments which stand out.
But all in all, Mr Turner is a film about more than broad brush strokes; it's just a film that left me relatively cold in terms of emotion; granted, Spall's character work as the pot-bellied Turner is nothing short of awards-worthy - particularly in the sequence where his father dies., but the emotional pull is distinctly lacking and the relative repugnance of the man does more to drive you away than pull you in.