Mr. Turner

by | Feb 6, 2015 | 0 comments

A Veteran Director Churns Out a Film that Disregards A Basic Story’s Guidelines

Artists’ lives have been depicted on the screen since the Lumière brothers invented the moving picture. Some depictions have come about as some of the best films in history (The Artist, Singing in the Rain, Chicago, Amadeus, etc.). It might seem to some filmmakers, that this is an easy subject to pursue, since it would seem to be semi-autobiographical. But (as you were expecting me to say), this is not the case at all. It is very difficult to pinpoint an artist’s life, be it that you are an amateur beginner of an experienced veteran. In Mike Leigh’s case, he is a very experienced director, and he attempted to portray painter J.M.W. Turner’s life in Mr. Turner, but he missed the mark.

Mr. Turner follows the English painter J.M.W. Turner (Timothy Spall) at the peak of his fame in the early 1800s. Turner, however, is not a very likeable fellow, in fact he seems to be repugnant, grunting and spitting constantly. He lives in London where, while he paints, he has his father, William Turner (Paul Jesson), and his housemaid Hannah (Dorothy Atkinson) care for him. We see Turner take trips to Holland, the outskirts of London, and to seaside ports in order to paint his specialty: seascapes.

I was very intrigued by this film since it got much attention at Cannes, but in the end I was left feeling very disappointed. The problem with this film is similar to that of Inherent Vice: the story. In Inherent Vice, the story seemed too complicated to bring to screen, in Mr. Turner the opposite thing happens: there is no story. Leigh seemed to be making the film for the sake of it, there was no specific goal that Turner was aspiring to get at, no finish line or villain or any pressure our characters could suffer in any way. It’s as if Leigh (who also wrote the screenplay) scrapped all the first grade rules of how to format a story and just wrote a jumble of scenes.

It was a shame because everything else about the film was pinpoint perfect: the period costumes and set were enough to make a historian cry; the sound and speech coaching perfectly submersed us, the cinematography was notable and smart (though I disagree with its nomination for the Academy Awards), and the acting from the whole cast is stellar. Spall in particular must be highlighted; he plays Turner in the most repulsive way, yet he allows for the audience to sneak a peak at the traumatism and reasoning behind Turner’s rotting personality. Spall had previously been always shunned as a supporting actor used for comedy relief, just see him ridiculed in Enchanted and Harry Potter, or in the animated Room on the Broom and as a CGI character in Alice in Wonderland. Turner was the perfect role for him, which might hopefully bring him more leading parts.

In the end though, no matter how good every aspect is, if the most crucial part of the film: the story, is not there, the film ends up being a long and insufferable two hours. 



Lead Performance




Historical Accuracy

What is your painter biopic? Let me know in the comments section.

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