Film: "Mr. Turner"; Cast: Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage, Ruth Sheen, David Horovitch and Ruth Sheen; Director: Mike Leigh; Rating: ***1/2
Written and directed by Mike Leigh, "Mr. Turner" is a slow languid film depicting series of moments in the life of the eminent British romantic artist J.M.W. Turner, who was considered as the only artist who could amost stirringly and truthfully measure the moods of Nature.
The narration meanders aimlessly giving an insight to; Mr. Turner's personality, the scenic English countryside and the art era especially its transition from Romanticism to Impressionism.
"Mr. Turner" is not a full-fledged biopic as it focuses only on the last quarter of the artist's life. When we first meet him on the river bank in Holland, he is a 50-something, grumpy man engrossed in capturing nature in his sketches.
And with minimal dialogue expositions, while he travels, paints and stays in the countryside, the film exposes the idiosyncrasies, moods and eccentricities of the artist. It reveals his relationship with his father; estranged mother of his two daughters; his faithful maid Hannah Danby whom he occasionally exploits sexually; Mrs. Booth, his second lover a twice widowed landlady; and his peers at the Royal Academy of Arts.
"Mr. Turner" is solely Timothy Spall's canvas. With his disheveled and clumsy figure, he creates a strong physical presence. And, with his vast vocabulary of grunts he makes up his own distinctive language. He is a bundle of contradictions and appetites. He is also worldly and calculating, tender and cold. His performance is truly a class apart.
Paul Jesson as his loving and supportive father matches him in style. Ruth Sheen, as Turner's ex-wife breathes fire into the handful of explosive scenes as a woman, who cannot stand the man any longer, and Marion Bailey, as the genial and caring Mrs. Booth is charming.
But it is Dorothy Atkinson among the supporting cast who is most impressive as Hanna Danby, Turner's timid and long-suffering housemaid. She steals the show with her passive and physically eroding appearance. Her presence gets etched into your memory and she remains with you much after you have left the theatre.
The rest of the artists are theatrical in their dialogue delivery and blocking, making the scenes appear pretentious and staged.
The plot does not progress through any causality and effect momentum as there is hardly anything dramatic by way of narrative eventfulness in the film, but the director basks in the moments, and provides glimpses of what it takes to be an artist, literally and figuratively.
Visually, the film is atmospheric with golden hues. Each frame is picture perfect with pastel shades, capturing the impressions of the period, the moods of the artist and the era. Due credit goes to the cinematographer Dick Pope and production designer Suzie Davies for assisting the Director in achieving what he visualised.
The film is neither tedious nor inert. It just painfully crawls, depicting the animal instinct in the genius.
Despite its flaws, this film is worth a watch for the brilliant performances and picturesque frames.