To be honest while I love art I am sorely lacking in knowledge of great painters. So when I heard there was a movie out about painter J.M.W. Turner it wasn’t a name I was familiar with. After watching the film MR. TURNER I went back to look at some of the art he created. So strange to share a last name with someone that talented and have no idea about him.
MR. TURNER tells the story of the artists in the last few decades of his life during that early 19th century. Having become a successful painter of landscapes, making it an acceptable form of art that it had previously never enjoyed, Turner went on to create something different. But that comes in the second half of the film. The first portion deals with his day to day life, the woman he sired two daughters with and then ignored and his father, a man he was as devoted to as the man was to him.
At this point in time Turner (Timothy Spall) is a respected artists among his peers. With pictures hanging in the Royal Academy of the Arts, Turner enjoys conversing with his colleagues as well as the gentry who seek out his art in return for rewards in both monetary and social circles. One segment in this section of the film display his visiting the home of a land owner who has purchased several of his painting and whose company he enjoys. Anther finds him visiting the Royal Academy and offering suggestions there to fellow artists.
As the film progresses Turner seeks inspiration by returning to a location he remembers as a boy. There he meets and befriends a couple he rents a room from, Mr. and Mrs. Booth (Karl Johnson and Marion Bailey). His friendship with them is shrouded in secrecy as he gives himself the name of Mr. Mallard. Later when Mr. Booth passes, Turner returns to the seaside resort to continue painting there. It seems that the location offers the greatest views of sunrise and sunset in the country, most of which his paintings involve at the time. As time progresses Turner and Mrs. Booth become a couple though unmarried.
The latter half of the film moves from establishing the characters and into the later days of Turner’s life when he began to paint quite differently from his earlier years. The literal translations of sights he saw and placed on canvas changed to his attempts to put feelings in his paintings, establishing himself as one of the early impressionist painters of the time. Ridiculed by his contemporaries for this choice he would later be hailed for his inventiveness and use of color and light.
The movie unfolds in a slow fashion and continues that way from throughout. But that’s not to say this is a bad thing. There is no way to create an action film from the life of someone during this period whose greatest action involves placing brush to canvas. What it does is present the life of the painter, the good, the bad and the ugly. The screenwriting here takes us through the years of his life in a way that holds your interest until the very end. Extreme credit must also be given to Spall who brings this man to life on screen. He never portrays him as a saint but at the same time offers a man you feel compassion for throughout.
The major reason for watching this film though is the images that are captured on screen. Cinematographer Dick Pope captures the scenery that influenced Turner as if he were creating his own work of art and indeed he does. The hillsides and seascapes that he presents here come to life on screen making it a visual feast of its own. While director Mike Leigh may get credit for bringing this whole project to fruition, it is Pope’s visuals that will remain with the viewer long after the film ends.
The movie might not be for everyone. It’s pacing and story content feel more European than American. While in English there are times that the words chosen and accents used can make turning on the subtitles a necessary evil. But if you’re willing to give it a chance, if you’re looking for more drama than car chases then you might just find yourself enjoying this film. I know I did.
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