How are you faring Mr. Turner? This is the standard greeting in J.M.W. Turner's world where Lord Nelson's feats at the battle to Trafalgar are a current memory. The Mike Leigh film focuses on the last quarter of the painter's life. Turner is relatively well off, travels to locations all over Europe to find the settings for his paintings and is a leading figure at the Royal Academy of Arts.
The film opens with an exquisite shot of Turner out at a vast field in the Netherlands sketching a windmill. The camera locks in on two woman walking from left to right in the frame with the windmill above them then extends back to show Turner at a higher elevation working on his sketch. of the scene sets the tone for Turner's method of going to, on, in and amongst nature to create his art.
Director Mike Leigh creates a visually stimulating mid-nineteenth century world. The dirt roads, horse drawn carriages, buildings and especially the costume design team contribute to the production in bringing the viewer into the time period. Leigh keeps the camera fixed using wide angles whenever possible to demonstrate the full scope of the settings for Turner's landscapes and naval pieces.
Director of photography Dick Pope plays a major part in creating the world that appears on screen. Pope who has worked with Leigh on many occasions captures the rich array of colours that are prominent in Turner's paintings with his lens. He is especially good at showing several sunrises and sunsets driving home Turner's reverence for the star. In one scene Pope displays a giant valley with bright green mossy areas and a body of water at its base. The shot is astonishing and naturally the spot that after his hike into the area Turner decides to sit down to sketch. Pope's vision is fully displayed at a key moment in the production as Turner is taxied along the Thames as the Temeraire is tugged to it's final resting place inspiring the famous painting of the event.
Timothy Spall is fantastic in the title role of J.M.W. Turner. Grunting is his main method of communication. Based on the length a pitch of the grunt something is pleasing or annoying to the Artist. His verbal utterances are a cross between an Orc and a large Bear. Spall is very physical in the scenes where he paints throwing everything from brushstrokes to fingers to spit at the canvas to create the pieces.
Paul Jesson who has worked with Spall and Leigh both before in Vera Drake. Turns in a strong performance as Turner's father William. He lives with his son, does all of the paint mixing, buying and canvas construction while Billy goes out on his travels. He is in poor physical heath specifically his lungs but continues to do all that he can for his son to allow so him to focus on painting. He makes a matching pair with Dorothy Atkinson who plays Hanna Danby Turner's dutiful housekeeper. She is constantly bent over, has trouble walking features an extremely bad complexion that worsens as the film progresses. She is tends house and is always at the door to meet Turner when he returns from his trips. Marion Bailey another Leigh regular is memorable as Turner's companion Sophia Booth. Having already buried one husband when they first meet Sophia starts a relationship with Turner following the death of he second husband. She is usually ready to assist when Turner physically overexerts himself in the name of his art.
Mr. Turner is a well acted biopic that paints a vivid picture spanning parts of three decades. Leigh presents the elements of the art along with the effort required to get the picture. The film is beautifully shot and the reliance on natural sound serves the production well. It is a film I can recommend.
*** 1/2 Out of 4.
Mr. Turner | Mike Leigh | UK | 2014 | 150 Minutes.
Tags: Biography, Painting, Nineteenth Century, Royal Academy, Romanticism, Landscapes, Watercolours, Maritime Scenes.