Review: Mr. Turner

Opens December 25

MR. TURNER written and directed by Mike Leigh, with Timothy Spall and Marion Bailey. 150 minutes. A Mongrel release. Opens December 25. Rating: NNNNN

Don’t call Mr. Turner a biopic. It opens in 1826, when painter J.M.W. Turner is at the peak of his fame – none of that “Wow, look at the light!” from an eight-year-old with a sketchbook – and focuses on his daily life painting, arguing with other artists and having (mostly) bad, sometimes abusive sex.

Scenes in the Royal Academy, where Turner’s paintings hang alongside those of his romantic contemporaries, reveal how radical Turner was, laying the groundwork for the Impressionists. Dick Pope shoots the landscapes that inspired the paintings spectacularly, but writer/director Mike Leigh also conveys the impact of reality – slave ships, the rise of the steam engine – on the artist’s otherworldly masterpieces.

Timothy Spall, winner of the Cannes best-actor prize, inhabits the role with brute force, speaking in grunts, spitting on his canvases to get the right effect, yet showing an achingly human side in a brothel sequence or when tragedy strikes.

Mr. Turner is about art and what ignites it, and it’s perfectly happy to take its time. An art film in every sense of the word.

Oscar buzz

The Academy loves the Brits, but this year the contingent of UK hopefuls is rammed. Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything) and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) both copped SAG and Golden Globe nods, while Timothy Spall was inexplicably snubbed – or maybe Cannes is so last spring. Mike Leigh is an Academy favourite, though, and even if Spall gets ignored again, Leigh could score a screenwriting nom. Cinematographer Dick Pope so expertly recreates the colours of Turner’s paintings in the landscapes that he, too, could get some Oscar love.

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