Mr. Turner (directed by English filmmaker Mike Leigh) details the life of British painter J.M.W. Turner, who lived between the years of 1775 and 1851. According to my research, he is considered a part of the Romantic movement, although much of his work is now considered a prelude to the Impressionist movement, and some of his works are even considered to be very early examples of Abstract art. Much of his work is shown in the film, and, for those interested, some of these very same paintings can be viewed at Boston’s Museum of Fine Art.
This film is not really about Turner’s painting, but rather the man himself. The film looks at the contrast between the man’s absolutely beautiful work and his distinctly less appealing personal life. Mr. Turner was a very eccentric and controversial figure in the British art establishment, and as such had few friends and close relationships. His life was often filled with hardship, and he suffered from frequent bouts of depression.
Turner is played by English actor Timothy Spall, who is by far the highlight of the film. His performance is often quite subdued, keeping with the film’s somber and introspective tone. His portrayal of Mr. Turner is gruff and unafraid to rub people the wrong way. But he is also acutely emotionally vulnerable, and the film focuses on the contrast between that vulnerability and the joy he receives from painting. He plays the sort of tortured genius persona of Mr. Turner very well; the man was in many ways far ahead of his time. Timothy Spall’s performance was extremely well-received at the Cannes Film Festival, where he won the Best Actor Award.
While I cannot say that I enjoyed the film as much as the distinguished gentlemen at Cannes, Timothy Spalding’s performance as Turner is a joy to watch. If you enjoy watching a master actor at work or have any interest in the world of art, then Mr. Turner is a refreshing alternative to the frequently bombastic and grandiose blockbusters that tend to be released at this late time of the year.