Mr Turner explores the last quarter century of the great if eccentric British painter J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). Profoundly affected by the death of his father, loved by a housekeeper he takes for granted and occasionally exploits sexually, he forms a close relationship with a seaside landlady with whom he eventually lives incognito in Chelsea, where he dies. Throughout this, he travels, paints, stays with the country aristocracy, visits brothels, is a popular if anarchic member of the Royal Academy of Arts, has himself strapped to the mast of a ship so that he can paint a snowstorm, and is both celebrated and reviled by the public and by royalty.
Review by Louise Keller:
Watching Mike Leigh's Mr Turner is a little like being immersed in a beautiful painting. Exquisite to look at with wonderful cinematography and production design, this portrayal of British landscape painter, J.M.W. Turner is a showcase for veteran actor Timothy Spall, who embodies the complex man and the world in which he lives. Leigh's film is hardly a sympathetic view of Turner, who lacks social graces and skills and whose treatment of women has much to be desired. However, it effectively gives us a sense of the times and an insight into his passion for art and love affair with light.
The opening sunrise shot with a windmill silhouetted in the background sets the scene beautifully. Two Dutch maids with white milking caps walk along the banks of the Dutch canal, while Mr Turner stands nearby with his sketchpad capturing the scene. This mesmerising imagery is typical of the two and a half hours that follow, allowing us to enter into Turner's world and see things through his eyes.
Leigh canvasses two aspects of his life during its final 25 years - his art and his personal relationships. Both are fiery. Turner is portrayed as a terse man, ever scowling and never pandering to anyone. The scene at the Royal Academy when Turner places a dollop of red paint on his canvas much to the astonishment of the other artists - including his rival Constable - is one that is as fiery as any. I was interested in the scene in which he is offered a huge sum for the acquisition of all his works; his refusal is prompted by his stated wish to bequeath his work to the British nation so all his works can be displayed and viewed free of charge to the public.
Exceedingly preoccupied is the description Turner offers his ex-mistress, who is introduced early in the piece, when she visits with his two illegitimate daughters. There are few courtesies offered. Nor are there niceties offered to the domestic with whom he shares rough sex against the bookcase. It is when Turner meets the twice-divorced Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey), the landlady of rooms with the finest views in Margate and where the sun makes its first appearance of the day that a relationship with some charm develops. She is lost for words when he tells her: 'You are a woman of profound beauty.' Bed, balsam and broth is her mantra for taking care of her man. Turner's relationship with his former barber father is also canvassed.
Spall makes a fist of the role (he won best actor at Cannes in 2014), often growing like a bad tempered bear. He is often seen in silhouette, wearing top hat and sporting a brolly as he wanders through the landscape whose striking skies are splotched with clouds in various shades of greys, whites and yellows. The fact that he spits at his canvas and uses somewhat unconventional methods to create his art, form images that stay with us.
Leigh's film is a masterwork about a master artist; its achievement is the impact it leaves. Visually stunning, the film boasts an extraordinary music score by Gary Yershon, that enhances the vibrancy and impenetrable nature of the art.
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MR TURNER (M)
CAST: Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Karl Johson, Ruth Sheen, Sandy Foster, Amy Dawson
PRODUCER: Georgina Lowe
DIRECTOR: Mike Leigh
SCRIPT: Mike Leigh
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dick Pope
EDITOR: Jon Gregory
MUSIC: Gary Yershon
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Suzie Davies
RUNNING TIME: 150 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2014