Monday, September 14, 2015
Written and directed by Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner is the story about the life and career of British painter J. M. W. Turner who was considered one of the most radical painters of the 19th Century. Told in an unconventional fashion, the film explores Turner’s work as a painter and what drives his art as he is played by Timothy Spall. Also starring Lesley Manville, Dorothy Atkinson, Paul Jesson, Marion Bailey, and Martin Savage. Mr. Turner is an astonishing yet captivating film from Mike Leigh.
Set in 19th Century Britain, the film is the story of one of Britain’s most revolutionary and daring painters of the century’s first half who created images that didn’t play by convention but rather look at a landscape or the see as it is. Yet, it is told from the prime of his life where he is getting recognition as an artist to his death in 1851 where he creates paintings through watercolor and evocative images of skies and the sea with colors that were considered to be innovative. The film also showed that Turner was a man who was also very polarizing during his time where some thought he was mad for the works he did while there are some who thought he was a genius. At the same time, the film portrayed Turner as a man who lived by his own rules despite the fact that he often neglects his maid who is in love with him while he would fall for a twice-widowed landlady whom he would later marry.
The film’s screenplay does play into a rise and fall scenario as its first act is about Turner’s rise through the British art world despite some reservations for some on his work. The second act is about that continuation but also show Turner deal with criticism as he finds solace in her personal life despite some trouble which involves the daughters he has but neglects as well as his maid. It plays into a man who lives in a very unconventional fashion in his lifestyle which alienates some but others are fascinated by it. Especially in his approach to painting and how he wants to see things which definitely arise those with strong opinions to see if his art is any good or not. By the film’s third act, it is about not just the dismissive opinion towards his painting from those in society including royalty but also Turner dealing with his failing health. Notably as he also copes with the changes that goes on in the world of art where his paintings are seen as either passé or just too radical for the British public.
Mike Leigh’s direction is very intoxicating in not just the way he presents the world of 19th Century Britain where it would transition during the age of the Industrial Revolution with trains and factories. It’s also in the fact that some of the images he would create are attempts to visualize Turner’s paintings where some of it looked like real paintings. Shot in various locations in Britain, Leigh does create something that is quintessentially British in its look and atmosphere while much of the dialogue and language has a looseness where the actors are able to improvise and say things as if it felt natural to those times. Even as Leigh wanted to deviate from the convention of traditional bio-pics where he uses the setting to do something that feels real as he is known for never using a script to guide him.
Leigh’s approach to framing with some unique wide and medium shots do carry a sense of atmosphere in some of the locations including the painting galleries where people of royalty would gaze into them. Much of it involves some slow yet gazing camera movements along with scenes of Turner creating his paintings as Leigh does approach many of his compositions as if it was a painting by Turner but with people and things rather than the landscapes themselves. Even as some of Leigh’s close-ups use to play into the world that Turner is in and how some suffer from it or those who are enriched by his presence. It all plays into the fact that Turner cares about his work and the land he is from no matter what a bunch of snobbish critics, people of society, or royalty think of them as he made his work for Great Britain. Overall, Leigh creates a sensational and exhilarating film about one of Britain’s great painters.
Cinematographer Dick Pope does incredible work with the film‘s cinematography with its rich usage of colors to play into some of the film‘s lighting schemes as well as maintain some rich colors in some of the film‘s interior settings as it is a major highlight of the film. Editor Jon Gregory does excellent work with the editing as it‘s mostly straightforward to play into Turner‘s approach to painting while there‘s some rhythmic cuts and montages for a few moments in the film. Production designer Suzie Davies, with set decorator Charlotte Watts and art director Dan Taylor, does amazing work with the look of Turner‘s studio and the art galleries where many of Britain‘s painters post their paintings for the royals to see. Costume designer Jacqueline Durran does fantastic work with the costumes to create the look of the clothes the men and women wore including the ragged clothes that Turner wears.
Hair/makeup designer Christine Blundell does brilliant work with the hairstyles of the women as well as some of the facial hair and hairstyle of the men. Visual effects supervisor George Zwier does nice work with some of the film‘s visual effects as it is very minimal for a few scenes set in skylines and for some big ships. Sound editor Lee Herrick and sound designer Robert Ireland do superb work with the sound to create something that is sparse but also naturalistic in the sound work while going for something big in a few scenes set in the sea. The film’s music by Gary Yershon is marvelous for its orchestral-based score that ranges from themes with soaring and lush string arrangements to more somber pieces as it plays into the many moods that Turner endures in his life.
The casting by Nina Gold is phenomenal as it features small yet notable appearances from Leo Bill as the famed photographer J.E. Mayall, Peter Wight as the famed art patron Joseph Gillot, Sinead Matthews as Queen Victoria, Tom Wlaschiha as Prince Albert, Karina Fernandez as a singer Turner befriends at a gathering, David Horovitch as Turner’s physician Dr. Price, Joshua McGuire as the pretentious art critic John Ruskin, Sandy Foster and Amy Dawson as two of Turner’s adult daughters in their respective roles as Evalina and Georgiana, and Fenella Woolgar as art critic Elizabeth Eastlake. Other noteworthy small roles as such famous British painters include James Fleet as John Constable, Richard Bremmer as George Jones, Jamie Thomas King as David Roberts, Mark Stanley as Clarkson Frederick Stanfield, Simon Chandler as Augustus Wall Callcott, and Roger Ashton-Griffiths as Henry Williams Pickersgill.
Ruth Sheen is terrific as Sarah Danby as a former lover of Turner who is the mother of his two daughters as she despises Turner for not being there enough for his girls. Martin Savage is fantastic as Turner’s friend Haydon who is also a painter but one who struggles to succeed in the world of art as he would also owe many including Turner money. Lesley Manville is superb as the scientist Mary Somerville who would show Turner some unique insight into the world of light and science that would inspire his work. Paul Jesson is excellent as Turner’s father William who is a big supporter of his son as he does whatever to help him despite his ailing health.
Marion Bailey is amazing as Sophia Booth as a landlady who lets Turner stay with her under an alias as she later becomes his lover while learning about his true identity and his work where she would give him a life outside of that world. Dorothy Atkinson is brilliant as Turner’s maid Hannah Danby as a woman who is in love with Turner but feels neglected and exploited sexually for Turner’s own desires as she later copes with his growing absences at home. Finally, there’s Timothy Spall in a magnificent performance as J.M.W. Turner as this very brilliant but troubled artist who lives under his own rules as he is also very radical in who he is as a person and as an artist while trying to deal with the world around as well as those he feel don’t understand his work as it’s a really Spall at his best.
Mr. Turner is an outstanding film from Mike Leigh that features an incredible performance from Timothy Spall as the titular character. Armed with a great ensemble cast as well as top-notch technical work, the film isn’t just a very provocative look into one of Great Britain’s great painters but also into the world of art. Especially in the way art was viewed in those times and how Turner was someone that was considered too daring in a world that was confined by old rules. In the end, Mr. Turner is a spectacular film from Mike Leigh.
Mike Leigh Films: (Bleak Moments) - (Hard Labour) - (The Permissive Society) - (Nuts in May) - (Abigail’s Party) - (Kiss of Death) - (Who’s Who) - (Grown-Ups) - (Home Sweet Home) - (Meantime) - (Four Days in July) - (High Hopes) - Life is Sweet - Naked - Secrets and Lies - Career Girls - Topsy-Turvy - All or Nothing - Vera Drake - Happy Go Lucky - Another Year
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