Mr. Turner

“J.M.W. Turner, arguably the greatest of British painters, was an uncommonly difficult man, and Mr. Turner, the exceptional film Mike Leigh has made about him, does not do things the easy way either.

“Mr. Turner, anchored in the rock of Timothy Spall's astonishing, Cannes prize-winning performance, pushes hard against the strictures of conventional narrative and ends up pulling us into its world and capturing us completely. We come away feeling we know what it was like to live in his times, to know him and to be him. Mr. Turner is also an incisive examination of what it means to be an artist on both a micro and macro level, showing the nuts-and-bolts everydayness of the work as well as examining its deeper aspects.

“Essentially a series of connected vignettes, Mr. Turner presents the artist in numerous situations in a superb, uncannily lived-in version of 19th century Britain that feels much too real to be called a re-creation.  We are thrust into a world from which all helpful signposts have been intentionally removed. Though the film covers the last quarter-century of the man's life, from 1826 to 1851, there are no on-screen identifiers to tell us what year we're in. Characters, almost all based on real people, are not necessarily identified either, and the language used is so authentic to the period that it's sometimes hard to follow word for word. This is total immersion in another time and place.

“From our first sight of him striding purposely down his London street, Spall's magnificently done performance gets us through this maze. Blustery, cantankerous, someone who grunts more expressively than he speaks, this Turner is an elemental man with an ethereal talent, and Leigh veteran Spall, who took painting lessons for two years to get comfortable with a brush in his hands, brings him to life in a way that is breathtaking.

“Because of the intense way Leigh and his cast create character, a process that can involve months of improvisation for even the smallest of roles, even those actors with little screen time make equally vivid impressions, also an essential element in involving us in the proceedings.

“Admiring of the work but unblinking about the complex, contradictory man, Mr. Turner, like his paintings, is unlike anything else you'll see this year, and that is welcome news, indeed.” - LA Times


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