'Mr Turner' - Movie review

Feb 06, 2015, 14:56 IST | Mihir Fadnavis

'Mr Turner'
A; Bio-drama
Director: Mike Leigh
Cast: Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey

Two of the most unlikely British entities clash in Mr Turner. One is director Mike Leigh, whose films are not only moving and beautiful but also mostly impromptu. The other is Timothy Spall, who is known to the average moviegoer as Peter Pettigrew, rat-faced weasel from the 'Harry Potter' movies.

The audience has a very good reason to check out Timothy Spall’s performance as British painter JMW turner in this film
The audience has a very good reason to check out Timothy Spall’s performance as British painter JMW turner in this film

The average moviegoer would probably not have seen most of Spall's work, but they now have a very good reason to check out his performance in this movie as British painter JMW Turner.

The film chronicles the life of Turner, now known as the pioneer of landscape paintings. The 19th century setting in the film is rich, as lovely as the works of Turner himself. But this is not a conventional biopic, or even a contrived one like 'Theory of Everything' or 'The Imitation Game'. Leigh's approach to the film is unique — he presents a bipolar nature of the central character with dual forms of narrative. Leigh juxtaposes sunny paintings with dark shadows of Turner, like that scene in which a boar's head being shaved is collocated with Turner's face being given the razor treatment. The light and the shadow of his work is reflected upon the duality of Turner's character itself.

Spall also grunts like a pig, when he's not creating his next masterpiece. He's conflicted but renders the emotion subtly. He's also very funny, not articulately but in appearance. He's also a disgusting animal who sexually assaults his servant. A genius always has a dark side, and Leigh establishes that with strokes as perfect as the fellow he's making a movie on. Visually, the film is quite stunning, with impeccable costumes and fluid camerawork catching up with the performances and direction.

What really works in the film is the way the passage of time is portrayed. Turner has to deal with issues of becoming obsolete. His health issues plague him, and it becomes harder for him to take criticism when people parody his work. A terrific scene has him dealing with the advent of a camera — a device that threatens the very fabric and profession of painting. It becomes difficult for him to accept another art form that he has no mastery over. Films seldom delve into the topic of newer technology replacing the era of classical techniques, and even when they do they pander to the melodramatic formula, like in 'The Artist'.

This is a film made by a true artiste about a true artist. And in many ways, it's better than 'Big Eyes', the other art-based film of the year, and is certainly deserving of more Oscar nominations than it actually scored.

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