TIFF 2014 Review: Mr. Turner
A visual masterpiece and featuring a master class in acting, Mr. Turner, the film, much like the divisive Romantic artist himself, will not be to everyone’s liking. Writer/director Mike Leigh’s latest is a leisurely paced character study of the introverted, immensely-talented painter and his finely-tuned glance at the ever-changing landscape and daily minutiae of England from the early-to-mid-nineteenth century. Though its slow pace and an almost caricature-like lead performance by Timothy Spall will unnerve some, Mr. Turner is a deeply rewarding film experience that demands to be seen.
At the film’s heart is a man who led quite the ordinary life: J.M.W. Turner (Timothy Spall, who won the Cannes Best Actor prize for his multilayered performance). He greets the days by going on long, solitary walks and sketching the picturesque sunrises as they touch upon the elegiac English countryside. When he returns home to his stately manor, he spends time with his cherished father William (Paul Jesson) and takes advantage (both emotionally and sexually) of his repressed housekeeper Hannah Danby (theatre actress Dorothy Atkinson, in a heartbreaking role). At times, his acclaimed and often reviled paintings of shipwrecks keep him on the outskirts of the celebrated Royal Academy of Arts and much discussed by the nobility. Following the death of his father, Turner divides his time between the patient Danby and the accepting loving arms of seaside landlady Mrs. Booth (Marion Bailey).
The subject of his artwork could have made for an entirely different, and yet utterly fascinating film. (Discussions of his art are in fact featured in festival selections National Gallery and The Theory of Everything), Mike Leigh’s lyrical and poetical reflection on aging, beauty and love is a stunning celebration of these themes.