On Saturday we went to see Mike Leigh’s latest film, “Mr Turner” about JMW Turner. I’ve been looking forward to seeing the film ever since I read about it when it was shown at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and I wasn’t disappointed.
Although I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on art, as far as I’m concerned, Turner is the greatest artist these island’s have produced. He was way ahead of his time. Although he painted traditional Romantic landscapes and mythological works, it is clear that his real interest was in the effects created by light and stormy seas. To me, many of his works are pure abstract with swirling patterns of colour and predate the works of the Impressionists who were surely influenced by him.
The film didn’t have a clear storyline as such. It was very much character driven. Timothy Spall gave a tremendous performance as Turner. He wasn’t a sympathetic charcter by any means so the portrayal was very much warts on all – well, more like grunts and snarls as that was the main way the Spall’s Turner communicated. Not the most articulate of characters – the lecture at the Royal Acadamy that featured in one scene was far from electric! – Turner’s way of communicating, as far as this film was concerned, was through his art.
The film also explored his relationships with his fellow artists and women. And in the latter, in particular, the portrayal was far from flattering. He neglected his two daughters and sexually exploited his househeeper (played by Dorothy Atkinson), but his relationship with his “mistress” Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey), his former Margate Landlady, came across as genuinly loving. His relationship with his father (Paul Jesson) was also affectionate.
All the performances by all the main characters were excellent – that’s Mike Leigh’s strength, bringing the best out of his cast – and the cinematography by Dick Pope was beautifully done, especially the landscape shots.