Director:Mike Leigh Writer(s):Mike Leigh DOP:Dick Pope Cast:Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Paul Jesson, Marion Bailey, Ruth Sheen.
When Mike Leigh creates, something wonderful happens and the world listens. When Mike Leigh creates something with Timothy Spall, expect nothing short of brilliance.
Today Turner’s legacy is attributed to the prestigious annual prize given to a British visual artist under the age of 50. In Leigh’s semi-biopic we join the London-born artist in the latter years of his life; controversial at that time for his turbulent paintings and eccentric behaviour. The film touches on various people and moments in the Painters later life from the close and loving relationship between Turner and his father, who provided studio assistance and lived with him till the day he died; to the estranged relationship he had with Sarah Danby and their two daughters. Other revered figures of British history drop by, a young John Ruskin is portrayed as a fierce defender of Turner’s work and pioneering Scientist Mary Somerville turns up to school Turner in a lesson of light refraction. Regardless of how much of this is artistic liberty on Leigh’s part, it’s still a treat to see the historical culture elite on-screen, running the same circles.
At the point at which we join the portly middle-aged J.M.W Turner, it’s hard to believe it’s the same man lauded centuries later. An unquestionable talent from a young age, the film alludes that Turner’s later work, now regarded as a Romantic precursor to the Impressionism movement, was openly snubbed and mocked for being abhorable self-indulgent expensive messes.
When his father passes, he finds solace in the arms of a widowed landlady, Mrs Booth (beautifully performance by Marion Bailey) . Shacking up privately away from the societies prying eyes, in her private company he’s allowed to live out his days peacefully. Turner himself is enigmatic; embarking on solitary adventures across the English coastlines, marinas and landscapes to provide inspiration for his work.
The film itself consists of scene after scene of beautifully lit and crafted shots. The studio in which Turner paints is like a curated installation; the long and wide landscape shots tracking Turner as her finds inspiration on one of his many out of london jaunts are images directly lifted from one of the artists canvases. It’s a breathtaking spectacle, striving to convey and capture the world seen through the artists eyes.
Timothy Spall has received a Cannes award for Best Actor for his role as Mr Turner. It’s not surprising, his performance is unpredictable, endearing and inspired all at once. During a Q&A for the film, when asked about his approach to taking on the role, Spall mentioned the extensive research he undertook into Turner’s life – a dedication so great that he enrolled in a few art lessons too.