Review: Mr. Turner


Mike Leigh is a prolific British director who has produced some classic, critically acclaimed films. His latest effort is the biopic of one of the most famous English painters of all time, J.M.W. Turner.

Mr. Turner takes place over an indeterminable time period while Turner (Timothy Spall) is in the peak of his popularity and fame. It chronicles his relationships with his fellow artists and the aristocratic society he mixes with, even though he is from a working class background. It also gives a warts-and-all record of his rather tumultuous personal life and how he balances this with his passion for painting.

To be honest, there isn’t a lot of painting in the film, or even a study into his methods, far short of showing him mixing his own spit into some of his paintings. What Mike Leigh focuses on most is his relationships. He has a very close relationship with his Father, however, he has two daughters with Sarah Danby whom, it is made clear, he hasn’t seen for years before they all show up at his house to introduce him to his first grandchild. He has an occasional fling with his house keeper, who happens to be Danby’s niece. He eventually takes up residence with a landlady from Margate after her husband passes away.

This all sounds like a dramatic plot that should scud along at quite a brisk pace. But it doesn’t. The film runs at a length of two hours and twenty minutes and it’s slow going and quite dry. There are some brilliantly timed moments of comedy to keep things just light enough, but towards the end you are very aware of how long the film has taken to get to where it is.

Mr. Turner feels quite self-indulgent and could do with some entire scenes lifted out as they don’t really add anything to the story being told. The indulgence of this project is felt best in the way the shots are constructed, especially the land and seascapes used as real-life versions of the pictures Turner created.

There are some beautiful images used in this film and the research done into the protagonist’s life is, apparently, first class. The film is really well made and interesting enough, though if you don’t know much about Turner, chances are you could be quite bored by it. One thing you will take away from Mr. Turner though, is that the English language was so much more poetic 200 years ago especially when used to insult or pour scorn on someone!


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