Mr Turner

Film

Drama

Mr Turner

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Time Out says

Thu May 15

Twice before, first with 'Topsy-Turvy' and then with 'Vera Drake', Mike Leigh has punctuated his bittersweet studies of contemporary life with period dramas. Now, with 'Mr Turner', the British director of 'Naked' and 'Secrets and Lies' takes us back to the nineteenth century and the later years of the celebrated, groundbreaking, difficult painter JMW Turner (1775-1851). Sad and joyful, 'Mr Turner' offers a wonderfully rich tapestry of experience and digs deeply into a complicated, contradictory life.

Timothy Spall – a veteran of Leigh's films – plays this eccentric, determined London bohemian like a bronchial, cantankerous, randy old toad with backache. He grunts and grimaces and gropes his way through life. He talks like a market trader after a crash course in the classics. Leigh, meanwhile, explores Turner's life unburdened by any sense of purpose other than an intense, contagious fascination with this man, his work, his times and, increasingly, the inevitable, slow, irresistible trudge towards death.

We observe Turner's fondness for his elderly father; his sexual relationship with his meek housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson); his rejection of his children and their mother; his arms-length acceptance by the lions of the Royal Academy; his late-life relationship with a Margate widow (Marion Bailey); and the mockery of the crowd when his work turns experimental. 'Vile' and a 'yellow mess' concludes Queen Victoria at an exhibition: the presence of royalty in a Mike Leigh film is just one of its many welcome surprises here. Mortality hangs heavily over ‘Mr Turner’, which covers roughly 25 years and is a poetic, brilliantly choreographed patchwork of moments and episodes. The film often has a wistful, regretful air, but alongside sadness sits great joy – there are moments of wicked humour.

All of this is engrossing and evocative, and the sense of time, place and period is unusual and beguiling. But what makes 'Mr Turner' doubly fascinating is the mystery at its heart: what defines an artist's relationship with his or her subject? Can it be explained? Can you trace clear lines between the creator and the work? They're impossible questions. So what Leigh does is sketch the emotional ties between Turner and the places (and less frequently the people) he paints. He bursts into tears while sketching a young prostitute. He ties himself to the mast of a ship in the rain. He strides across a hilltop ruin as five wild horses gallop past.

Our sense of what inspires Turner as an artist comes less from watching him work (the film is pleasingly light on literal scenes of the artist at his easel) than from a series of astonishing, time-stopping shots of land and sea. The film's opening sees two women walking along a canal in the Low Countries. Later, we see waves lapping against a beach and cliffs. Leigh and his cinematographer Dick Pope essentially create a series of filmed paintings that celebrate the spirit of Turner's work, and these reflective, quiet moments have great power.

'Mr Turner' is a long-cherished project for Leigh. It's impossible not to equate the ideas in the film about working and living as an artist as reflections on the filmmaker's existence – finding time for a personal and family life; negotiating patronage; feeling strongly about the work of contemporaries; tolerating critics intellectualising your work. But if Leigh is in some ways holding up a mirror to himself, that doesn't distract from the larger mirror he holds up to Turner and his time.

Not only do we end up with a vivid, surprising and soulful sense of one artist and his work, but Leigh also offers us a commanding view of a city, London, and country at the dawn of the modern age and of a man being overawed and overtaken by new technologies such as photography and the railways. As ever with Leigh, 'Mr Turner' addresses the big questions with small moments. It's an extraordinary film, all at once strange, entertaining, thoughtful and exciting.

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Release details

UK release:

Fri Oct 31, 2014

Duration:

149 mins

Cast and crew

Director:

Mike Leigh

Screenwriter:

Mike Leigh

Cast:

Timothy Spall, Marion Bailey, Dorothy Atkinson

Users say

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<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>0</span>/5

Average User Rating

3.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:10
  • 4 star:1
  • 3 star:1
  • 2 star:2
  • 1 star:3
LiveReviews|17
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Nuffa A
1 of 1 found helpful

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Tanawat Wongwiwat

Superbly filmed... I would have liked to have seen more of Turner's rise to fame; that was missing. A tad too indulgent, long, but superb acting by all... 

Susan P

This was a fabulous film. Yes, it was long, but I never once looked at my watch because it was so visually stunning. So many scenes were just like Turner paintings. - amazingly beautiful! Everyone mentions the lovely opening scene in Holland, but there were many many others. And it exactly showed, in true depth, the character of a slightly crotchety old man who had a genius for painting and an incredible sense of visual beauty but who wasn't always easy (as History relates), who mucked up many relationships and who wasn't a media savvy person at all. I loved it and shall be going back to see it again, as I expect I missed what some of the grunts meant! Lots of people on this site didn't like it. I think they may be the sorts of people who don't find old age very attractive.....

Dawn Elizabeth H

I did not understand why this film was made or what the production was trying to achieve. We were left with images of a miserable old man clearly unable to relate to those around him. We saw images of his paintings but given little understanding of what his was trying to do and what his driving force was. There was nothing in the projected image of the man that we could like. Much of the dialogue was irrelevant to the story, padding. The music composed for this film aroused my contempt since the sound tapestry had no rhythmic shape, no pulse or vitality and there was hardly a quick note in the whole slow moving score. There was evidently a lot of money spent on the visual shoots but since the film has no sense of purpose this was small consolation. 

Alex S

Gorgeously mounted and thoughtful film. The best thing about the development of interaction in this film - and the biggest relief from hollywood - is its slowness. 

David M

This film is very very boring...you end up hoping that Mr T will take one of the many opportunities to die so that the film can end.  It is a series of poorly interrelated anecdotes of the man's life which leaves you thinking that very few if any really understood his character.  Spall is just a smidgen over the top and a lot of the other acting is simply over acting.  Comedy is used inappropriately and at some points it feels like you are watching low-end pantomime.  Turner's work is a million miles from boring and illuminates a really quite dull period in British art history - this film shouldn't be allowed to diminish that.  

Maria

A beautiful film which tells the story of what it takes to be an artist.  The scenes at the Royal Academy depicting the gossip, rivalry and group think conveyed without excessive dialogue, were exemplary.     A relief to see a film where scenes are allowed to unfold without endless cutting and fast jumping around in case the audience get bored.   I loved it.

Andrew R

Visually stunning, but really spoiled by thin and superficial characterization and story-telling. We see little and learn less. Worse, the unpleasant Hogarth-esque pastiches of the principal characters does nothing to examine their motivations nor to complement the realism of the cinematography. All in all it leaves a rather unpleasant taste in the mouth.


Peter N

The film was quite realistic, in that it was exactly like watching paint dry. Far too long, far too indulgent, far from understandable.

Justin P

JMW Turner may have been a great painter, but his life (and hence this movie) was not really that interesting. Not wholly respectable, but not enough excitement to sustain a whole movie, especially one that runs at 2.5 hours. I like independent/arty movies, and I respect Mike Leigh, but this film is just plain boring! Rather read about the artist's life online (the movie only shows the last quarter), and go check out his work at Tate Britain.