DIRECTOR: Mike LeighMrTurner_Final

CAST: Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Paul Jesson, Marion Bailey, Ruth Sheen, Sandy Foster, Amy Dawson, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage, Joshua McGuire, Fenella Woolgar, James Fleet, Karina Fernandez, Kate O’Flynn, Elizabeth Berrington, Eileen Davies, Tom Wlaschiha, Sinead Matthews, Richard Bremmer, David Horovitch, Peter Wight, Jamie Thomas King, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Simon Chandler, Leo Bill, Edward de Souza

RUNNING TIME: 149 mins


BASICALLY…: The later years of famed British painter J.M.W Turner (Spall), which sees him go through professional heartbreak, personal turmoil, romantic relationships and leaving his legacy on the world…


Over 150 years after his death, the great British painter J.M.W Turner can finally be paired with a worthy soul mate in the form of the great British filmmaker Mike Leigh. The latter’s ode to the life of the former, represented loud and clear in his Mr. Turner, reads like an impossibly passionate love letter written on a blank canvas, the sort of anarchy and rule-breaking rebellion that Turner himself would be most pleased with.

Leigh paints a stunning and complex portrait of the artist’s later years, allowing us brief snapshots into his complicated life as well as the difficult relationships he managed to conjure up along the way, whether it’s with fellow painters or even his own Dickensian dogsbody (Dorothy Atkinson, who is poised to break hearts here) who Turner is more than happy to sexually exploit when it suits him. Like Boyhood, it serves to give us a brief glimpse of this particular figure as he goes throughout the ages, though perhaps the transitions as he goes throughout the years aren’t as smooth or even as subtle as Richard Linklater’s methods – even so, it’s the little moments in-between that make everything seem three-dimensional and atmospheric. An early moment sees Turner (Timothy Spall) enamoured by a moving piano piece, another sees him voluntarily tied up to a ship’s mast during an intense snowstorm (a real event that happened, by the way), and another further into the film sees him adjusting to the new, potentially-damaging invention of the still camera. They may not seem like much (except for maybe that second one) but they are refreshing in how they ground the movie when it could have so easily been exaggerated more for dramatic effect. Leigh has thus crafted something bold yet stunningly human at the same time.

At the centre of Leigh’s ambitious ode to Turner are two very important men who, to use the words of Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, “really tie the room together”. As you may have already guessed, the first man is Spall – giving a career-best performance made up almost entirely in grunts and mumbles, his Turner is a lecherous, yet oddly sympathetic, creature whose unorthodox and cynical view of the world might just make him more enemies than friends – case(s) in point, fellow painter Benjamin Hayden (Martin Savage, either brilliantly pathetic or pathetically brilliant) who becomes indebted to Turner after borrowing some money and becomes more of a needy parasite than a true friend, and an embittered former lover (Ruth Sheen, on top screeching form) who attempts to twist Turner’s arm if only to get him to acknowledge his illegitimate daughters and grandchildren. That’s not to say that Spall’s Turner isn’t prone to pure human emotion – his love for his father (Paul Jesson, a heartfelt presence) is abundantly clear in the film’s many early scenes; and when a personal tragedy sucker-punches his self-esteem (and catches up with him when visiting a local brothel) his crying is both exceedingly uncomfortable to watch and listen to, and a moving example of raw human emotion. There’s no telling whether Spall will repeat his triumph at the Cannes Film Festival where he picked up the Best Actor award, but we’d say he’s in at least a very good chance of getting further recognition as the forthcoming awards season moves on.

As for the second man, and perhaps the most vital part of making this film look as good on Leigh’s canvas as it does, that would be cinematographer Dick Pope who creates a vibrant and rich atmosphere that – yes – looks as though it came right off a Turner painting. Take the opening shot, for instance, where we have a windmill standing triumphantly beside an orange sunrise and, after a panning shot involving a pair of gossiping milkmaids, Turner himself sketching the scene from a distance, standing like some sort of observant hawk in the marshes. The shot suggests beauty in and of itself, but Pope’s visuals are what help elevate it to something of true visual splendour with his use of lighting and positioning of certain objects. Throughout the rest of the film his cinematography never lets up, creating a series of fantastical images whether they’re set in the countryside or inside a grand hall of canvases lined up like recipients at a royal event (which, funnily enough, happens here with a brief scene involving Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, played by Sinead Matthews and Tom Wlaschiha respectively).

This is a film, however, that requires a lot of patience from its audience, especially with its 149-minute running time and lack of concrete story. Again, as with Boyhood it seeks to present a life as it is played out instead of a narrative more suited to its filmic roots, but those expecting something a little more focused and strung together may be somewhat disappointed. However, Mr. Turner makes up for that by presenting a very intimate and heartfelt look at a very complicated but also very brilliant man, which Mike Leigh and his MVPs present to the world on a magnificently detailed and extravagant canvas.


With Mr. Turner, Mike Leigh makes his ultimate tribute to the great British painter with a variety of snapshot scenes that play out beautifully thanks to Timothy Spall’s magnetic lead performance and Dick Pope’s luxurious cinematography, ultimately making this a gorgeously-made British biopic for the ages.