Unfortunately, I never had an opportunity to see Mr. Turner on the big screen. Even on a little screen, the cinematography was gorgeous, which isn’t surprising, given the subject matter.
I had predicted that Mr. Turner would be yet another four-star film from 2014. This was based on the fact that it was made by my favourite British director (Mike Leigh), concerned my favourite British painter and had received rave reviews from my favourite critics. I am indeed giving Mr. Turner four stars, though not without qualifications. But because the film wasn’t released in Winnipeg until late February, I will count it as a 2015 film. Expect to see it on my top ten list.
It turns out Joseph Mallord William (J.M.W.) Turner was a tortured genius (not uncommon for geniuses), especially after his father died (they were very close and lived together for decades). Mr. Turner shows us only the last 25 years of Turner’s life and moves through those years in a way that isn’t always easy to follow. We see that Turner has had children but doesn’t want to have anything to do with them, or with their mother. We see other examples of Turner’s bad behaviour toward women, especially his housekeeper, and sometimes toward men. But we also see how tenderly he treats a widow who becomes his lover for the last years of his life. And we see the almost effortless way he produces his brilliant and innovative paintings while being treated scornfully by some of his contemporaries. Mr. Turner can be a difficult film to watch. Since it’s also a very long slow-moving film, it’s no surprise that Mr. Turner lasted only two weeks in Winnipeg (while I was in Europe) and has generally not been popular among filmgoers.
I also found some parts of Mr. Turner less than compelling, but much of the time I was utterly captivated by the magic of Leigh’s filmmaking genius. Leigh takes us to southern England in the first half of the 19th century and gives us a wonderful feel for the world Turner inhabited and painted. Especially striking to me was getting to see the depiction of the actual scenes Turner painted. Then there’s the stellar performance by Timothy Spall as Turner, the marvellous cinematography and the appropriate score. All in all, as a masterpiece worthy of the artist whose life it depicts, Mr. Turner deserves no less than ****. My mug is up (but be warned that many people will find this film tedious).