Summary : Mike Leigh beautifully, whimsically and sincerely brings Mr. William Turner's impeccable artistic legacy to the screen in this wonderful biopic.
It seems truly apt that Mike Leigh; one of Britain’s finest cinematic artists, is the man to bring William Turner’s impeccable artistry legacy to the cinematic theatre. It forms a wholesome, reverent and profoundly moving relationship between director and story, and the outcome is a film of true excellent and emotion. Mr. Turner is a picture that evokes pride in our culture, in our contributions, and ultimately our nation.
Leigh’s film explores the final quarter-century of the great and wildly eccentric J.M.W Turner’s (Timothy Spall) life by documenting his master brushstrokes, his relationships with family and women, whilst breathing life into a past era alive with possibilities and forthcoming technologies. If there is something few can do better than Leigh, it’s directing actors. He knows how to burrow his camera so deeply into the hearts and minds of those who occupy his frame, and he does this with tenderness and respect rather than intrusive grit.
One of the most striking elements of his biopic is how ordinary he makes Turner screen. Much of Spall’s dialogue is babbled jargon aided with pleasantries, smirks and frequent grunts: at some points his audibles are more farmyard than master of the canvas. We are invited into the world of Turner – the highs, lows and the moments which would usually end up on the cutting room floor.
Details aren’t spared here, rather irrevocably addressed often with a whiff of humor in tow. Many audiences will likely be shocked by just how funny Mr. Turner is, myself included, and it comes as a grand surprise. A key moment involving a gaggle of painters all assessing and applauding each others fine craft quickly escalates into a gentlemanly quarrel laden with side-splitting spew. Leigh is infamous for sure-footing the lines between comedy and tragedy; it is an art he has perfectly pretty much throughout his illustrious career, and there is no exception to his installed rule here.
Aside from greatly assured and delicate direction from Leigh, the film is absolutely alive within it’s era. The sets and location shoots breathe with authenticity: the gas lamps with their ambient flickering, the creeks of the crooked wooden floorboards, the salty air so thick as it dances above the Kentish shores – everything within the frame is expertly rendered and attended with detail; maybe the same amount of detail that Turner himself offered in his masterworks.
The seaside cinematography is stunning and acts as a gorgeous counterpart to the cobbled, crowded streets of London – two locations Turner’s work, life and love wholly thrived – and indeed the two places where the man is most celebrated. Surely the Turner galleries will host screenings of Leigh’s exquisite film as part of their exhibitions. Plus the score broods with tingling beauty and mirrors the images which parade across the silver screen.
As previously commented, Spall is extraordinary; the type of performance which simply must be applauded and will undoubtedly hold accolades. His drooped, almost wilted face is a pallet of equal emotion as the images his brush and paint created for so many across the globe. Spall really should start rehearsing his BAFTA acceptance speech, and stick an Academy Awards one in his top-pocket just in case. Whilst this is undoubtedly his film, many others who populate are fantastic too; namely Lesley Manville, Marion Bailey and Paul Jesson.
With a running time of 150 minutes and a period setting, some will likely be turned off by Mr. Turner, but those who opt to see it will be experiencing one of the year’s finest British films, and a work that truly cherishes a great man and an even greater art form. I’m off to the Turner to check out more of his stuff…
Mr. Turner screens as the Festival Gala tonight at the London Film Festival and opens in UK cinemas on 31st October