by Joanna Orland
Director Mike Leigh pays tribute to J.M.W. Turner in this biopic that explores the last twenty-five years of the British artist’s life. Timothy Spall was named Best Actor at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival for his role as Turner, but the true accolades are deserved for cinematographer Dick Pope who translates Turner’s visual style and works to the big screen in an accomplishment worthy on its own artistic merit and not just as tribute. The visuals being inspired by Turner’s work as much as the story itself is inspired by his life, is a (brush)stroke of genius and the primary source of enjoyment in this otherwise long and drawn out character study.
The painter whose dying words are known to be “The sun is God” is most famed for his work depicting the brilliance of light. The film’s landscape visuals do his work justice, but when it comes to plot, pace and performance, Mr. Turner is rather bleak in comparison. Lacking in plot, this film is far too long to be considered an enjoyable watch. There are some excellent performances, notably Marion Bailey as Turner’s love interest Mrs. Booth who is a delight in every one of her scenes. Timothy Spall grunts his way surprisingly to Best Actor accolades as a surly Turner who is completely unempathetic and rather vulgar as a human being. This is why the film is not actually about Turner the man, but about Turner’s art wrapped in the guise of a biopic.
While I can’t recommend this film as a character study or narrative, its visuals are something worth spectating. Perhaps they would have even made the real J.M.W. Turner, surly and self-absorbed as he was, take notice.