Mr. Turner (2014)

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The latest film by Mike Leigh premiered in this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Best Cinematography award and its leading man was named Best Actor, proving that Timothy Spall has come a long way from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.

Mr. Turner takes a look at the last 25 years of British painter J.M.W Turner (Spall), which covers his unconventional style of creating masterpieces and his strained relationships with his father (Paul Jeeson), his housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson), his mistress Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey) and his peers, which include Benjamin Haydon (Martin Savage) and John Constable (James Fleet).

One of the film’s main problems is its long running time of 150min.  Given that the film depicts a seemingly mundane life, which mainly consists of arguments, travels and bad relationships, Mr Turner doesn’t provide additional levels in its narrative.  There is no joy nor excitement and very little amusement; it is essentially about an unpleasant man who can paint.

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In addition to being a one-path feature, there is no clear message of the film. We know that it covers the last quarter-century of Turner’s life, but there is no indication of inspirations or influences of his life or even his work, which would have provided more of an insight to a somewhat morally dubious character.

The film’s strength mainly lies in Spall’s portrayal of Turner.  There is a natural gruffness to his voice and manner, while evoking charisma and humility in his talent.  Even though he is not the kind of person who wish to be best friends with, it is almost impossible not to be taken with this character and when Spall showcases his perfected art abilities, he becomes a diamond in the rough.

The mise-en-scène shows Leigh’s accuracy in recreating the scenes while Dick Pope’s cinematography complements Turner’s use of colour, especially in the exterior shots, making it easy to lose yourself in the picturesque landscapes of the feature, but unfortunately it only provides an on-screen escape to lengthy, uneventful feature.

Even though it is overlong and contextually lacking, Mr. Turner is a lavish production with a career highlight for Timothy Spall.

Director: Mike Leigh
Writer: Mike Leigh (screenplay)
Stars: Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson
Runtime: 150 min
Country: UK

Film Rating: ★★½☆☆

2 Comments
  1. Chris Knipp says

    I think you missed out here. This is an offbeat but wonderful work. It was one of the best at the NYFF and before that at Cannes (and Spall won Best Actor at Cannes for a reason). I’d give it a 9/10.Mike Leigh is one of the world’s great filmmakers and he and his actors and his cinematographer Dick Pope are working at the top of their game. I too like films to be shorter but I went through a series of sequences of this film and could not bear to cut them.

  2. Katie Smith-Wong says

    I have to admit I’m not a big fan of Mike Leigh’s work, but I thought Mr Turner would change my mind. I agree while Spall and Pope’s cinematography is excellent, I didn’t connect with the film, which is why I gave it a low-ish rating.

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