Timothy Spall is Mr. Turner: Portrait of the Artist as a Sublime Monster
For all the glorious, fondly recreated landscapes in Mike Leigh’s biopic of J.M.W. Turner, it is Timothy Spall’s presence as the irascible, eccentric, often unsavoury genius that dominates the screen.
Turner was a complicated man who was adored and reviled in equal measure by those whose lives he touched. Focusing on the last 25 years of Turner’s life, Leigh shows the painter at the height of his creative powers while his popularity is picked over by a colourful assortment of critics, fellow artists, spurned lovers, royalty and the general public. His devotion to his work—pushing at the boundaries of art to explore sublime beauty and profound terror—and moments of generosity and spiritual abandon are offset by a casual, subhuman disregard for the feelings or views of others. Whether in a moment of irritability or animal passion, his utterances are limited to a series of low grunts. If some scenes are overlong or over-staged it is impossible to be unimpressed by the enterprise and craft of both cast and crew.
Mr Turner is Timothy Spall’s fifth film with Mike Leigh, following roles in Life is Sweet (1990), Secrets & Lies (1996), Topsy-Turvy (1999) and All or Nothing (2002), and it is no surprise that Leigh chose to work again with cinematographer Dick Pope, who now racks up his eleventh big-screen collaboration with the director. Together they paint a memorable canvas, and despite the film’s occasional ponderousness, expect to see Spall, Leigh and Pope—as well as Dorothy Atkinson as faithful, molested and neglected housekeeper Hannah Danby—in line for big prizes.
Mr Turner is released across the UK on Friday 31 October.
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