Mr. Turner explores the last quarter century of the great if eccentric British painter J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). Profoundly affected by the death of his father, loved by a housekeeper he takes for granted and occasionally exploits sexually, he forms a close relationship with a seaside landlady with whom he eventually lives incognito in Chelsea, where he dies. Throughout this, he travels, paints, stays with the country aristocracy, visits brothels, is a popular if anarchic member of the Royal Academy of Arts, has himself strapped to the mast of a ship so that he can paint a snowstorm, and is both celebrated and reviled by the public and by royalty. Written by
After Benjamin Haydon makes a scene at the Royal Academy, he says, "Stretch me no longer on this rough world. I am done with you," as he is exiting. In reality "Stretch me no longer on this rough world" was the note Haydon left when he committed suicide. See more »
When Turner says "no good deed goes unpunished" he's a bit ahead of his time. The quote is attributed to Clare Boothe Luce with some unsupported claims it might have first been said by 3 others, who all would have been quite young or unborn at the time of Turner's death. See more »
Mr. Ruskin, can I pose you a somewhat "conundruous" question?
Please do, Mr. Turner.
To which do you find yourself the more partial: a steak and kidney pie or veal and ham pie?
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"a United Kingdom/French Republic/Federal Republic of Germany co-production" See more »
We always knew that "Mr Turner" would not be a conventional costume
picture any more than it would be a conventional biopic. It is, after
all, a Mike Leigh film and Mr Leigh doesn't do 'conventional'. Of
course, he normally concerns himself with the vagaries of contemporary
middle-class culture, poking fun at, and then finding the bleeding
heart of, the little people who inhabit his very personal world. (Leigh
is, perhaps, the only writer/director who can crack us up and break our
"Mr Turner" isn't the first time he has looked to the past nor to real
historical figures for his material. With "Topsy-Turvy" he created the
world of Gilbert and Sullivan and 'The Mikado'. As musical biopics go
it is, perhaps, unique. Now with "Mr Turner" he takes us deep into the
life of William Turner, arguably the first great 'modern' painter and
almost certainly the greatest of all English painters, and in doing so
has created the least stuffy costume picture I have ever seen. Of the
several masterpieces Leigh has given us "Mr Turner" may be the finest.
It begins when Turner was already in middle-age and established as
England's premier painter and it follows him until his death. It
reveals him to be a man of many contradictions, sharing his later life
mainly with two women, (he had long since disregarded his shrewish wife
and grown-up daughters whose very existence he always denied). For
sexual favours he turned to his housekeeper Hannah Danby while
preferring the company of the widow Mrs Booth with whom he lodged part
of the year in Margate, (Danby never knew of Booth's existence until
just before Turner's death). He could be both cruel and kind in equal
measure, both to his contemporaries and to those he professed to care
about and he certainly had a temper.
We don't learn a great deal about his technique as a painter though we
do see him, briefly, at work, including a wonderful scene, one of
several great set-pieces, where he adds a daub of paint to one of his
canvases at the Royal Academy's Exhibition. It's not really that kind
of film. Leigh is more interested in observing the man and getting
inside his skull and in this he is greatly helped by Timothy Spall's
magnificent performance as Turner, capturing the man mostly in a series
of grunts. Spall's Turner doesn't go for deep, philosophical
conversations on the nature of art. He seems happiest making small-talk
with Mrs Booth and when, in another of the film's great set-pieces, the
conversation veers into the critical appraisal of a fellow artist he is
quick to debunk the pretentious John Ruskin who obviously likes the
sound of his own lisping voice.
Spall, of course, is just the lynch-pin of a terrific ensemble. No-one
puts a foot wrong, (including Leigh regulars Ruth Sheen and Lesley
Manville), but one must really single out Dorothy Atkinson as the
unfortunate and much maligned Danby and Marion Bailey as Mrs Booth.
Both women are superb, giving us characters that are much more than
mere historical sketches. There is something deeply moving in their
silent acceptance of Turner's foibles, (and while Leigh's dialogue is
splendidly 'of the period', it's often in the silences that the film is
most effective). Credit, too, to Dick Pope's superb cinematography
which captures perfectly the paintings without seeming in any way
slavish. Indeed, of all films made about artists this may be the
finest. I don't doubt for a moment that it's a masterpiece.
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