Mr. Turner


Action / Biography / Drama / History


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April 19, 2015 at 09:26 AM



Lesley Manville as Mary Somerville
Tom Wlaschiha as Prince Albert
Timothy Spall as JMW Turner
James Norton as Clarinettist
720p 1080p
984.16 MB
23.976 fps
2hr 30 min
P/S 7 / 60
2.16 GB
23.976 fps
2hr 30 min
P/S 13 / 68

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by James Hitchcock 8 / 10

The Sun is God

Mike Leigh is perhaps best-known for his serio-comic social-realist dramas about contemporary British life, films like "Abigail's Party" and "Life Is Sweet", but he also seems to be developing a sideline in biographies of nineteenth-century cultural figures. First there was "Topsy-Turvy" about Gilbert and Sullivan, and now we have "Mr. Turner" about the life and career of the artist J. M. W. Turner. Or rather about the latter part of his life and career; when we first meet him he is already middle-aged.

Leigh has described Turner as "a great artist: a radical, revolutionary painter," and this is undoubtedly true; Turner's work, especially his later work, seems to prefigure Impressionism, perhaps at times even abstract Modernism. We must not, however, allow our appreciation of the progressive side of Turner's work to degenerate into that lazy cliché about the great artist starving in a garret, scorned or neglected by his contemporaries but later discovered by a grateful posterity. (Very few great artists, except perhaps Van Gogh, have ever conformed to this stereotype). He was greatly admired by his contemporaries, was praised in the highest terms by many critics, especially Ruskin, became a full Royal Academician while still in his twenties, never lacked for patrons and died a wealthy man. By contrast his great contemporary and rival, John Constable, whose art seems much less radical to our eyes, had a much harder struggle to establish himself.

Leigh's purpose in making the film was to "examine the tension between this very mortal, flawed individual, and the epic work, the spiritual way he had of distilling the world." This tension is something very obvious in the film. Turner, especially in later life, was noted for his eccentricity. Unlike many working-class Georgians and Victorians who rose in the world, he never attempted to hide his humble origins. He was untidy, had no social graces and could be rude and tactless. He never married but had a number of mistresses. He was estranged from the first of these, Sarah Danby, and refused to acknowledge his two illegitimate daughters by her. (Sarah appears in the film as do two other mistresses, Hannah Danby Sarah's niece and Turner's housekeeper and Sophia Booth, a seaside landlady).

And yet this uncouth, boorish-seeming man was an artist not only of genius but also of a deep spirituality. His obsession with accurately recording light and atmospheric conditions- he once had himself strapped to the mast of a ship so that he could paint a snowstorm- was born not only of a concern with fidelity to nature but also of a belief that light was a visible manifestation of the Divine. (His last words are said to have been "The sun is God").

How, then, could any actor hope to play so contradictory an individual? The answer to this question comes from Timothy Spall, one of Leigh's favourite actors. Spall is someone I have normally thought of as a "character actor", but here he gets the chance to prove himself as a leading man and makes the most of it. His Turner is a grumpy old man, and in his dealings with women something of a dirty old man as well, forever grunting and spitting and forever speaking in a sort of Cockney whine, and yet we are never allowed to forget that underneath his unpromising exterior he is a sublime artist. This is probably the finest performance I have seen Spall give; it won him "Best Actor" at the Cannes Film Festival and I hope that the Academy will bear him in mind when it comes to next year's Oscars. There is insufficient space to single out all the deserving supporting performances, although I should mention Martin Savage as Turner's friend and fellow-painter Benjamin Haydon, forever trying to borrow money off him, Paul Jesson as Turner's father, to whom he was very close, and Joshua McGuire in a comic turn as an effeminate, lisping Ruskin, very different to the way Greg Wise portrayed him in the recent "Effie Gray".

The other outstanding feature of the film is its visual beauty. Leigh and his cinematographer Dick Pope were clearly aiming to make it one of those films where every shot looks like a painting in its own right, and certainly succeed in this ambition. Some cinematic biographies of great artists, such as "Girl with a Pearl Earring" about Vermeer, do succeed in capturing the distinctive "look" of their subject, but I think that Leigh and Pope were not actually aiming to make every shot look like a Turner; their palette of colours, for example, is rather too muted for that. Possibly they felt that the peculiar luminosity of Turner's work would be too difficult to reproduce on film. There are, however, some memorable shots, such as the opening scene by the river in Holland, complete with windmill, and the one where Turner watches "the fighting Temeraire" being towed up the Thames, thereby getting the inspiration for one of his best-known works.

I am not sure if "Mr Turner" quite justifies the label "masterpiece" which some have tried to pin on it; it can at times be too slow-moving for that. Spall's wonderful acting, however, and Pope's striking cinematography make it a film that stands out from the crowd. 8/10

Reviewed by gavinayling 4 / 10


Many of the aspects of this film, in fact all of the aspects of this film, are great, bar one. Unfortunately, that aspect is the most important. The cinematography is outstanding, capturing amazing scenes and putting Turner in his paintings before he's painted them. The scenery in the period locations is also first class. The acting is perfect - the maid, Hannah, Turner, his father - in fact all the cast are excellent. But what lets it down, and what is unforgivable, is that even with an understanding of Turner's life this "biopic" doesn't tell a story. It is an endless series of scenes that attempt to be clever and give you a thousand windows into his life. But those windows are just that - they don't hint at a broader life, they just give you an impression of the man that you could get from a ten second description of him. The critics, I think, forgive a lack of story, but viewers - quite rightly - expect something more. There can be no spoilers for this film, there's no story to spoil.

Reviewed by Martin Bradley ([email protected]) 5 / 10

A masterpiece

We always knew that "Mr Turner" would not be a conventional costume picture any more than it would be a conventional biopic. It is, after all, a Mike Leigh film and Mr Leigh doesn't do 'conventional'. Of course, he normally concerns himself with the vagaries of contemporary middle-class culture, poking fun at, and then finding the bleeding heart of, the little people who inhabit his very personal world. (Leigh is, perhaps, the only writer/director who can crack us up and break our hearts simultaneously).

"Mr Turner" isn't the first time he has looked to the past nor to real historical figures for his material. With "Topsy-Turvy" he created the world of Gilbert and Sullivan and 'The Mikado'. As musical biopics go it is, perhaps, unique. Now with "Mr Turner" he takes us deep into the life of William Turner, arguably the first great 'modern' painter and almost certainly the greatest of all English painters, and in doing so has created the least stuffy costume picture I have ever seen. Of the several masterpieces Leigh has given us "Mr Turner" may be the finest.

It begins when Turner was already in middle-age and established as England's premier painter and it follows him until his death. It reveals him to be a man of many contradictions, sharing his later life mainly with two women, (he had long since disregarded his shrewish wife and grown-up daughters whose very existence he always denied). For sexual favours he turned to his housekeeper Hannah Danby while preferring the company of the widow Mrs Booth with whom he lodged part of the year in Margate, (Danby never knew of Booth's existence until just before Turner's death). He could be both cruel and kind in equal measure, both to his contemporaries and to those he professed to care about and he certainly had a temper.

We don't learn a great deal about his technique as a painter though we do see him, briefly, at work, including a wonderful scene, one of several great set-pieces, where he adds a daub of paint to one of his canvases at the Royal Academy's Exhibition. It's not really that kind of film. Leigh is more interested in observing the man and getting inside his skull and in this he is greatly helped by Timothy Spall's magnificent performance as Turner, capturing the man mostly in a series of grunts. Spall's Turner doesn't go for deep, philosophical conversations on the nature of art. He seems happiest making small-talk with Mrs Booth and when, in another of the film's great set-pieces, the conversation veers into the critical appraisal of a fellow artist he is quick to debunk the pretentious John Ruskin who obviously likes the sound of his own lisping voice.

Spall, of course, is just the lynch-pin of a terrific ensemble. No-one puts a foot wrong, (including Leigh regulars Ruth Sheen and Lesley Manville), but one must really single out Dorothy Atkinson as the unfortunate and much maligned Danby and Marion Bailey as Mrs Booth. Both women are superb, giving us characters that are much more than mere historical sketches. There is something deeply moving in their silent acceptance of Turner's foibles, (and while Leigh's dialogue is splendidly 'of the period', it's often in the silences that the film is most effective). Credit, too, to Dick Pope's superb cinematography which captures perfectly the paintings without seeming in any way slavish. Indeed, of all films made about artists this may be the finest. I don't doubt for a moment that it's a masterpiece.

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