An exploration of the last quarter century of the great, if eccentric, British painter J.M.W. Turner’s life.
Mr. Turner, Mike Leigh’s biopic of the famous artist J. M. W. Turner, is an interesting beast that I was never able to truly get into. This is not the fault of the script, the acting or the direction, but perhaps more that the subject matter just wasn’t overly interesting to me, and at 150 minutes, that’s a long time to watch a film that doesn’t grab you. With that being said, there is plenty to enjoy with the film, particularly in the performances of the main cast. Timothy Spall is excellent as Turner, gruff and distant, but with a sardonic wit hidden underneath. He doesn’t have many friends, mainly spending time with his father (Paul Jesson), and travelling across the country by himself to find new locations for his paintings. Spall steals the show, but mention should go to Dorothy Atkinson, who gives a heartbreaking performance as Turner’s faithful housekeeper.
The film covers most of Turner’s adult life, picking up with him on his return from Belgium and covering his relationships with two women, his reputation with the public and the royalty at its highest point and its lowest, and his membership at the Royal Academy of Arts. Every small part is impeccably cast, with even the smallest role filled with seasoned British thespians and Leigh regulars. The cinematography is at its finest when exploring the wonderful seascapes that Turner liked to paint, particularly in one great sequence where Turner is strapped to the mast of a ship amidst a storm to get a better view of the waves. Leigh successfully contrasts the real life imagery with that of Turner’s paintings, and he does a great job (alongside Spall) of exploring Turner’s internal feelings throughout the various events in his life.
Mr. Turner is a good film, some would say a great film, and it is undoubtedly an impeccably made biopic. Ultimately though, all of the strong elements didn’t combine for me to overcome the story, which never really gained my full investment.
Directed By: Mike Leigh
Starring: Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage, Marion Bailey and James Fleet