Mr. Turner (Spall) in the film, Mr. Turner, does not fit our usual images of a world-famous painter, yet I get the impression that this film has captured the essence of the actual man. He is gruff, brusque, and a bit cantankerous, especially in his old age, yet if we listen closely we see that he is a man of principle with a heart. At first blush, he doesn’t seem like someone who will forgive a debt after he hears about the circumstances, manage ridicule, really care about anyone or anything outside his art; but across the course of the story, we see exactly those attributes.
Mr. Spall has consistently received justified accolades for his performance, but I think just as much credit is due Mike Leigh (writer/director) and the cinematographer (Jon Gregory) for reflecting in their visuals the essence of the painter. Each frame is composed like a Turner painting—whether seaside or inside—with crisp colors, complex textures, action and repose.
We first see Turner when he lives with his father (Jesson) and a devoted housekeeper after he is becoming well known. Our eyebrows may rise when we see how father and son relate to one another, but after we hear their personal history, it doesn’t seem strange at all. In fact, I think it shows Turner’s real character with values for life, home, and family. After his father dies, Turner goes into a slump, but finds someone he can cherish in the landlady in his old hometown of Margate, Mrs. Booth (Bailey). They form a lasting bond that encompasses the self-misgivings of each.
It’s a treat to learn more about an artist who is—for most of us—only dimly recognized, and to develop an appreciation for what many value in his paintings. Leigh does an excellent job in helping us “be Turner” as he experiences the hurdles of life.
I think this film is not meant for everyone, but for those with an appreciation of art and what it means to be an artist; that is, one who is not typically someone whom everyone loves and admires, and is on the party-publicity circuit. Rather, the artist is one who is likely to be introspective, jealously guard private time, and have a particular taste in personal relationships and lifestyles. Turner is considered one of the foremost artists in Britain, and his art is considered to be a forerunner of the Impressionist Age.
For those with an artistic bent.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland