Mr. Turner (2014)


Mr Turner (2014)I’ve been keeping an eye out for this little film about the life of the painter J.M.W. Turner brought to the screen by Mike Leigh a pet project Mr.Turner (2014) that has been in the works for a few years with Timothy Spall already cast in the role of the cockney hobgoblin of a painter whose performance delighted me the other night. His years of character roles have allowed him to breathe real life into a man I knew little about. Partly because I’m not a painter and his work has never been an influence to my own. Always being in awe however at the scenes he created for generation of the British public to enjoy and love. Opening up a whole new world for us to explore.

Set in the later life of Turner the romantic landscape painter who has lead the life that all artists want to lead, one of pure creation of work, being immersed in his practice and everything else practically falling away. Here we find the man very close to his father William Turner (Paul Jesson) who is a long devoted assistant, living well into old age, after a life of a barber. The relationship at times goes beyond that of father and son to two men who have a deep love and respect for one another. Turner sr. is by far the closet male relationship he has, having an effect on him as the film progresses past his own death.

Also focusing heavily on his relationships with the women in his life, from his estranged daughters and ex-wife who be-grudgingly is part of his life, if only for their daughters sakes, having only but contempt for Turner who cares little for them all. Being merely courteous to the ladies, thinking little of them otherwise. It seems that Turner is a man who has many strands to his life which he hides projects to everyone he meets. Personas and identities that allow him to have the life he wants to lead. Spall gives a comic performance that is subtle and clever in the guise of an edwardian language which is eloquent for the cockney painter who otherwise grunts to great comic effect. Who needs words when  a grunt can express your emotions.

He has none of the airs or graces that his fellow painters have that we meet throughout the film, that even put shame to my own art-history. I will surely be researching them in the coming days. It’s the relationship between John Constable (James Fleet) and Benjamin Robert Haydon (Martin Savage) that we see on-screen. Seen not so much as rivals but as lesser artists who he respects to a point. To be rivals in the art-world can become quite an un-healthy mind-set, which we see with Haydon who fights the Royal Academy for the respect he believes he deserves. Whilst Turner treats him as he sees him, helping him to a point, knowing that anymore he would not shake him loose. His contemporary painters see him as very much a genus, who respect him also, whilst seen as an outsider who comes and goes, which he seems to like, just being very much himself, come and going as he pleases.

An important aspect in the film is the other women besides the non-existent family we have the house keeper/assistant Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson) a relationship that is built up creatively by the director more for entertainment, to find a sexual relationship that is not seedy but quietly consensual, that builds up to become a quite fire that burns within her. Whilst over in Margate, the spiritual home of Turner we have Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey) who becomes Mrs. Turner that lasts for the rest of the film.

The look of the film is not trying to find the locations of the paintings, instead it creates the atmosphere of them, grand operas of romanticism, the looseness of the painting. Which is far better than going for a “this is where he was inspired for this one” Instead placing us in the moment where inspiration struck for him, cutting then to see them being painted. Brought to life by two years of painting tuition by Spall which adds another valuable layer to his performance. If you’re going to play a painter, learn to paint, more likely than not you’ll be seen painting. Its expected of you. It’s a very physical act that we are given, not these carefully made strokes of the brush, more violent and visceral, spitting, blowing powder onto the canvas. The biography of Turner is very much brought alive, not just in Spall but the world he inhabits which is rich and at the same time quiet and contemplative. I found myself wanting to clap after a singing recital finished, I was that relaxed by it all. All this is what Mike Leigh has created for us to enjoy, to discover Turner and the world he inhabited.

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