Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – London Film Festival: Mr. Turner (Movie Review)

By Freda Cooper 14.10.2014

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – London Film Festival: Mr. Turner (Movie Review)

Mr. Turner (UK Rating: 12A)

On paper, the last 25 years of a Victorian artist's life doesn't sound an especially inspiring subject for a film, but this is no ordinary artist and the film is in the hands of no ordinary director. The artist, J. M. W. Turner, left a massive legacy of landscapes and watercolours, as well as giving his name to the Turner Prize, and with his unique improvisation-based approach to filmmaking, Mike Leigh has secured a reputation as one of Britain's finest directors, with titles such as Secrets and Lies, Topsy-Turvy and Vera Drake under his belt - so what happens when the two come together?

Mr. Turner was screened at the London Film Festival on 10th October and is released around the UK on Friday, 31st October - Lights, Camera, Action! has been at the London Film Festival to see what all the fuss is about.

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – London Film Festival: Mr. Turner (Movie Review)
For starters, Mr. Turner doesn't have a plot as such. It simply follows J. M. W. Turner's final 25 years - but, then, nobody's life follows a plot anyway. The audience sees every facet of his life - his closeness with his father, the effect of his death on Turner, his relationship with the housekeeper at his London home and another with a seaside landlady, with whom he lives under an alias. The other half of the story is his art - his paintings, his involvement with the Royal Academy, his connections with aristocracy, and the public and royal reactions to his work - both good and bad.

Essentially, a portrait is painted on the big screen and it's a well-rounded, celebratory portrait of Turner himself. Contemporary accounts portrayed him as an eccentric figure with a distinctive walk and a strong Cockney accent, which made him almost unintelligible: one moment coarse and gruff, the next extraordinarily eloquent and cultured - and despite his shambling appearance, he was highly intelligent, fascinated by science and steeped in mythology.

However, there were many times - in reality and in the film - when he hardly said a word, replacing language with what's been described as a growl. In truth, it's more like a rumble, coming from the depths of a rotund volcano on the verge of erupting - and it's surprisingly expressive. That's just one small facet of the complex Turner, though - a complexity that Timothy Spall utterly embraces in his performance, along with the eccentricity and speech mannerisms. The actor spent two years learning to paint as part of his preparation (or should that be immersion?) for the role. The result is a wonderfully vibrant and believable character, sometimes likeable and sometimes not; he's frequently miserly and the way he treats his housekeeper is heartless. The scenes where he's painting in the artist's own, unconventional style - spitting on the canvas included - are convincingly intuitive and instinctive. Spall, who's worked with Leigh on a number of occasions, has an impressive CV as a character actor, but this is in a different league altogether.

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – London Film Festival: Mr. Turner (Movie Review)
The cast is spattered with Leigh regulars and there's not a weak link among them. Most notable is Paul Jesson as Turner Senior, as extrovert and gregarious as his son is not, and the scenes between the two are genuinely affecting. Marion Bailey is pitch-perfect as Mrs. Booth, the chatty, warm hearted seaside landlady who becomes the lasting love of Turner's life, despite not having an artistic bone in her body.

The film, though, isn't all about the acting. Dick Pope's award winning cinematography is a work of art in its own right; with landscape shots that look just like big screen paintings. The effect is beautiful and simply stunning.

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10
At about two and a half hours, Mr. Turner appears lengthy, but that soon becomes immaterial as the audience is quickly absorbed by the fascinating mass of contradictions on the screen. It's an inspiring story, demonstrating that talent will always find a way through, whether it's acknowledged at the time or not. It's beautifully told, too, with exemplary performances, especially from Spall, and glorious photography. It's easily one of the most serious contenders for the best film of 2014.

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