Directed by Mike Leigh
Starring Timothy Spall, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Jamie Thomas King, Lesley Manville and Lee Ingleby
Eccentric British painter J.M.W. Turner lives his last 25 years with gusto and secretly becomes involved with a seaside landlady, while his faithful housekeeper bears an unrequited love for him.
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★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
"grunt grunt grunt. grunt. grunt grunt. grunt grunt grunt."
★★★½ review by Dirk van Eck on Letterboxd
*Grumble* meet the unexpectedly hilarious - and I mean in chorus laughter from the entire cinema audience - life of Mr. J.M.W. Turner, celebrated British sea-view painter. *Snarl* There is a scene in here that features an art critic circle discussing gooseberries growth and it overtrumps the best Monty Python sketches, I almost died laughing in my chair, an effect few comedies have managed to inflict on me and here Mr. Turner, announced as an drama/biopic, does it again and again and again. *Grunt* *Spew* featuring little plot besides seemingly unimportant and, above all, random passages is his life, the film is full of eccentric characters who turn uneventfulness into brilliance. *Snort* we never get to care too much about Mr. Turner himself and the last thirty minutes feel a bit draggy therefore, since the fun and amusement of the first two hours is traded in for the drama surrounding his final departure, but it’s fair to say that Timothy Spall, like so many other great leads this year, has been robbed of an Oscar nomination for his performance. *Mutter* *Bark* Mr. Turner is a filthy, yet beautiful picture and, as it happens, an excellent comedy. By the way, today is my birthday! And this was my birthday present.
★★★½ review by Matt Singer on Letterboxd
And now, a review of MR. TURNER in the style of its main character:
"Mmmmmmmm. MMMMMMM. Mmmmmm. [Snort.]"
★★★★ review by matt lynch on Letterboxd
sprawling but never disorganized or lacking in intimacy. this has to be somewhat autobiographical on Leigh's part, with so many characters either unduly frustrated or even perhaps overly impressed by Turner's insistence on what they see as quotidian. the details are what make both artists' work so vital.
★★★★ review by Steven Sheehan on Letterboxd
In hindsight Mike Leigh was the perfect man to bring William Turner's life story to the screen for the first time. Leigh has made a career out of focusing on these type of characters in their personal space, the eccentricities of British culture celebrated in everyday, muted fashion. Mr Turner is no different in that respect, keeping its focus small despite the larger than life scope with which the artist portrayed life through art.
This isn't necessarily a biopic about Britain's greatest painter, you could call it more of a character study or profile. It joins him as a middle-aged man already an acclaimed artist, living with his father and housekeeper. We learn next to nothing about his childhood or his strange relationship with the mother of his children both of whom he refuses to acknowledge. None of this hurts the understanding of the man in anyway because this is all about Spall's performance, pure and simple.
Within a few swipes of his paintbrush and a number of guttural growls Spall disappears under the wide sideburns, shaggy hair and dark top hat. He has great fun tackling the convoluted Dickensian language that enables the painter with a cockney accent to mingle with the upper crust of society. He turns Turner into an unstoppable force utterly committed to his work and mostly lauded for it. His insular lifestyle came across in work that concentrated on powerful landscapes where people were painted as tiny unimportant bystanders, if put into the picture at all that is.
Leigh shows Turner as having a contradictory attitude toward women, or perhaps only revealing himself to those who didn't demand too much in return. He outright refuses to contribute to the welfare of his children or their mother, yet finds affection with landlady Mrs Booth in Margate. Very little of the romance that blossoms in his paintings comes across in his personal life, although their coming together does show a softening and tenderness possibly not evident in his earlier life.
Being the first time Leigh has shot on digital film he takes full advantage of that fact with some beautifully enhanced post production shots. The opening scene finds Turner in the Netherlands scouring the horizon attempting to capture his moment, shadowed against a vibrant orange and yellow dusk. Later we view the sunset on Margate across the harbour and can imagine the glistening colours being cast across Turner's own canvass. Bar the infamous exchange with Constable, Leigh is wise enough not to throw his work in our faces and only uses them to enhance the character building done so skilfully by Spall.
As you would expect in a Leigh film there isn't a false note amongst the cast and whilst the plaudits and more will rightfully be given to Spall, Dorothy Atkinson's performance as Hannah Danby, Turner's long suffering housekeeper, deserves real praise too. Like all of Leigh's work this proves to be a humane and stripped down look at life. The contradictions that drove both man and artist to despair at the world around him, yet create such masterful visions of light are laid bare and it is a wonderful sight to behold.
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