Mike Leigh has always been an expert observer of character, seemingly wringing every last drop of inspiration from those that he works with and the development of his characters is always to the fore in any of his films. So proves to be the case once again with this superb biopic of the great British painter, Joseph Mallord William Turner.
Whether Turner’s character and nature is accurate here or not I couldn’t say and is not necessarily important; we must however at this point, without further ado, praise the magnificent Timothy Spall whose portrayal of a man of few words and the proverbial bear with a sore head, is quite possibly a career best.
A sneering disdain for small talk and flowery waffle, he grunts and grimaces his way through life, driven by an admirable, all consuming, burning passion for his work, often to the exclusion and detriment of those around him, be they his peers, his family or those whose affection for him will forever be largely unrequited; and all the while, one senses that behind his secretive nature and rituals of self-preservation, there’s a man that wants to be heard, appreciated and to be loved.
Not only does Mr Turner offer richly developed, beautifully observed characterisation, but equally as impressive is the magnificent cinematography which rather cleverly, and if the knowing ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ from those watching around me were anything to go by, very faithfully seems to capture the true essence of Turner’s work, presenting each new scene and location in such a way as to imitate his paintings, with much emphasis on the use of the dawn light, lending a kind of soft, gentle haze to each backdrop; a nice touch, apparent to even those of us with only a limited knowledge of the great art masters.
The film traces the development of Turner, the artist revered by all, to a man ridiculed by many for pushing his own boundaries into an area too experimental for its time. T’was ever thus…
Mike Leigh has worked his magic once again with just the right balance between the serious and the lightly comedic in this, his ode to a true genius.