MR TURNER is the new masterpiece from Mike Leigh, it covers the later life of artistic legend William Turner. Kernel Andrew reviews this one and you will be happy to know, if you haven’t read it already, that it is in Andrew’s Top 20 Movies of 2014. It has an official release on boxing day in Australian art house cinemas but it appears to have slipped in to a week early release and is currently screening across the country. Check out your local directories – definitely at Dendy Cinemas and Palace Cinemas. It is releasing from Transmission Films, is rated M and runs for a big 150mins. Enjoy Andrew’s thoughts……all the best……JK. 





MR TURNER is the superb new biopic by Mike Leigh. Leigh should need no introduction. He is a master director who has produced some very important work, work which has led to much critical and commercial success. It was pleasing for me to see Timothy Spall once again work with Leigh. 18 years earlier Spall worked with Leigh on SECRETS AND LIES which is one of my very favourite movies. In MR TURNER Spall plays the title character Mister Joseph Mallord William Turner. Turner is perhaps the most beloved of all English painters known by many as “the painter of light”. Indeed when I viewed his paintings in the Tate in London I was awe struck at how the man captured this most subtle of subjects. The first perfectly framed scene tells you everything you need to know about the man and also about Leigh’s treatment of his subjects. We are greeted with a scene of Turner sketching a windmill somewhere in the rural hinterland of Holland. It, as most of Turner’s work, is a landscape portrait and we see Turner silhouetted against the rising sun working feverishly to capture every detail. It is truly a wonderful frame and tells us about the magnificent ride we are about to undertake.

But it’s not all about light and his painting though. One can simply access these through books or the Internet. In fact they are there for anyone to see should they choose to walk into the Tate. At Turners insistence these were bequeathed upon his death to the British people gratis. Rather Leigh’s film is a supremely enjoyable biopic of this very difficult but incredibly gifted Englishman. A man who seemed to pour every portion of joy and zest for life into the canvas revelling in the possibilities of light, colour and movement. Whilst removed from painting a man of few words and at times gruff and bitter jealousies.




Timothy Spall without a doubt gives his finest performance to date in this role. It is no wonder that he received the best actor prize at Cannes for this character study of Turner. It is not inconceivable that the Oscar could also be his for this master class performance. It’s a nuanced performance, a performance that affects you as an individual. Spall’s Turner is a gruff almost shambolic figure who waddles along through life grunting and wheezing. In fact it is rumoured that Spall spent extended periods living in a pigs stall learning the nuances of grunts as communication. An extreme if not dedicated follower of The Method. But there is more to Spall’s Turner than this. Look at his eyes and you will see a brightness and hunger to learn new ideas. Still most of Spall’s dialogue in response to questions from the other actors is grunts and groans; these either turn the scene comical or at times almost strangely menacing. There is a masterful nuance even in this. His gait, his stoop, his body language convey so much more than language. It is an extraordinary experience and Spall deserves all the accolades he has and will receive for this role. This may make Spall’s Turner seem like an odious and offensive individual but the thing is he isn’t. Spall shows that underneath this gruff exterior is a tender and caring man. A man that is totally human endowed with a gift which most around him cannot even fathom. But he is a still just a man. A man with very human passions, both good and bad.

We do not begin at the beginning of Turner’s life but rather in 1826. Turner is 51. He is already acknowledged as a genius and he is the toast of the painting world. He works from a studio in his London town house, where his housekeeper Hannah (played brilliantly by Dorothy Atkinson) and elderly father, William Senior (Paul Jesson), literally do everything for him except paint.




He has a strange almost animalistic interest in his housekeeper with whom he occasionally takes advantage off. There is no tenderness there, rather it is very animalistic. There is some tenderness and a desire for more from Hannah which is never acknowledged by Turner. But his dealings with both of them are short, to the point and then over. It seems that Turner has no time for anything except for painting. In fact a lot of time is spent in the movie showing the painting process. It is like some strange otherworldly magical ritual which we are privy to. Leigh shoots it in direct contrast to his dealings with most people. In painting we see Turners intimacy and patience.

The contrast between this world of painting and that of his life is no more palpable than in his relationship with his ex-mistress (Ruth Sheen) and two grown daughters and a grandchild, whom he collectively pays little mind and whose existence he denies to the outside world. Rather than cruel it seems Turner is incapable of solid connections with most. There is an almost pitiable sadness to these interactions.

When life encroaches it seems that Turner went travelling. His travels take him to Margate where those familiar with Turner would know the light blue coloured skies inspired many of his paintings. He travels under a pseudonym and whilst there rents an apartment from Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey), who will eventually become Turner’s last mistress. This is where the movie turns to its emotional centre. It is through this unlikely meeting that Turner meets the “love of his life”. This is a very unlikely union, a veritable titan of the art world and a twice widowed country lady. But there is something in Sophia which draws Turner to her. It is as if through her Turner is finally brought into the human world and he begins to actually have something close to a real relationship with somebody. Booth is indeed a superb counterbalance to the almost feral Turner. The time on screen between Booth and Spall is a definite highlight of the film. Although this profoundly affects Turner he keeps the affair a secret from the general public.




Leigh also examines Turner amongst the politicking and sniping London art world. This relationship is perhaps highlighted best by two examples. His relationship with hapless biblical painter Benjamin Haydon (Martin Savage). A man who is attempting to work their way into the echelons of the London art world elite. Turner’s relationship with this man is almost schizophrenic. Sometimes helping him financially other times ridiculing him when he realises that he may finally succeed it really is Turner and his most vindictive and cruel. The other his relationship with his admirers and critics. His relationship with John Ruskin (Joshua McGuire) shows this side of Turner. Ruskin adored Turner but rather than feeling gratified he admonishes him for praising his work at the expense of more conventional artists.

A lot of credit must go to Dick Pope (a Leigh regular DOP) for not trying to capture Turner’s canvases beat for beat but rather capturing their essence, their energy. These credits must also be lauded on set designer Suzie Davies for the truly amazing interiors of either London or Margate as well as costume designer Jacqueline Durran. The music composed by Gary Yershon is perfect as well working well with the Turner’s temperament and moods.

This movie is one of Leigh’s best and should be acknowledged as a modern masterpiece.


5 Pops



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