Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. That is my first reaction to Mr. Turner which received a special award for cinematography at Cannes Film Festival. You know all those portraits which move in the Harry Potter movies? I thought of that while watching this film because I had the sensation of a moving painting from beginning to end. Beautiful, absolutely.
The film stars Timothy Spall as William Turner, the famous English painter who demonstrated that landscapes were something to behold on the canvass. Spall won a Best Actor Award at Cannes for his portrayal of this painter who in his lifetime created 550 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolours, 30,000 paper drawings. That is an astonishing amount of work for any artist and his work habits are a major part of this film.
The script in this movie by Mike Leigh moves at a pace due the times and subject matter. I like the script because it phrased things in the vernacular of the time, not the King’s language mind you, but the phrasing was such it reminded you that you were dealing with the 19th century and not in a way that it was a distraction but reminded you only of how meanings of words, our customs, have changed over the centuries.
The script lends visuals on how painters work. I thought the scenes where they were buying art supplies, simple as it was, taught me something for you see how paints were made, how they were sold, measured out. In one instance an ingredient was being haggled on for the price until the shopkeeper reminded the customer that the ingredient for that colour came all the way from Afghanistan and it dawns on you what exactly that effort took in the 1800s.
I also found myself, as an artist, relating to the life of Mr. Turner. You see what he had to do to make sales. We all have to make the ‘pitch’ and Turner was not above that. There was also, in his secret life, a pattern of wanting to escape and concentrate solely on his passion of painting. As an artist, we all possess a secret desire to tell the world to get lost and do solely what we love doing.
There is also the issue of acceptance. Turner was often derided, even in public, and scorned and mocked. Yet, he kept at it, being loyal to the talent he had. The issue of acceptance vs. money came up. This happens even today more often than people think. At one point Turner turned down 100,000 pounds (which would be in the millions today) offer for all his works because he didn’t want his work to be in a private collection. He willed it to the public. In this day when money seems to measure success, there is a lesson to be had in that act.
Turner had serious flaws. Parts of his personal life were despicable and yet, as an artist, I found myself relating to his motivations and aspirations even in the lowest moments of his personal life. Maybe because Leigh and Spall show Turner as so ‘human’, the character becomes one we can show affinity toward.
One acting note, I don’t know where they got this, if it was written into the script as a tidbit, if Spall made the acting choice or if there was something in archives that pointed Spall in this direction, but there is this grunt that Spall gave the character which he uses at certain moments in the film and it was brilliant. A simple thing but it added a whole level to the character as did some simple sound engineering for house sounds throughout the movie.
Mr. Turner was a bigger hit overseas than in the States but art house type movies tend to have to fight up stream here but this movie deserved all the accolades it received. Mr. Turner is a movie that comes at a leisurely pace but one that envelopes you, drawing you into the life of one of the world’s great artistic masters. This is an easy one to recommend for rental.