Starring Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson
Cannes award winner for best actor Timothy Spall (Harry Potter) is truly deserving of an Oscar nomination for his embedded performance in the biopic of William Turner. From the moment the film opens, the cinematography pulls you into what visually could be a moving painting. Dick Pope always works on director Mike Leigh’s films, but he has outdone himself here. Not since Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice have I seen such breathtaking cinematography. Mike Leigh (Happy Go Lucky, Vera Drake) is an acquired taste; love him or hate him, he has a distinct style and a curiosity for interesting and peculiar characters. While the original score certainly leaves much to hope for, the stunning frames and Spall’s grunt filled performance should impress those period piece seekers.
Known among his time as one of the great watercolor painters, J. M. W. Turner (Spall) was a gruff and eccentric man. Disregarding his duties as a husband and a father for his work following the death of his father, who was an inspiration and mentor, he became even more reclusive and difficult. He mostly enjoyed painting seascapes and boats, resisting new fads and traditions during the early 1800’s. He showed moments of kindness when people needed him and averted a relationship with his house maid (although he used her sexually from time to time), finally falling in love with a widow in a tiny boating town where he spent his childhood.
From the moment the film opens, the cinematography pulls you into what visually could be a moving painting.
Leigh’s script leaves out some of the alternative but colorful parts of Mr. Turner’s life, like his use of snuff and the presumed children he fathered with the widow Sarah Danby. While the film is certainly about Mr. Turner and his peculiar artist’s eye, Leigh is equally focused on the visuals of the film. In almost every scene Mr. Turner might be sketching or painting a beautiful landscape, but Spall is walking around in one. Spanning Herfordshire, West Sussex, Cornwall, Leigh really moves around and captures extraordinary sights and indescribable light. His framing, whether interior or exterior, makes almost every frame look like a postcard.
The strong accent and rustic dialect of the period mixed with the almost ape like tone Spall does for Turner will certainly strain the audience’s ear. Spall might certainly be nominated against Eddie Redmayne for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking. However, both actors do fascinating facial contortions for their various biopics. The manners of the day get a lot of focus; every time someone enters a room they are asked how they are faring. The film does start to get heavy and tiresome after the second hour, and once all the beautiful framing and locations seem to wear off it’s all up to Spall to keep our interest, which he does for the most part.
The most beautiful breathtaking cinematography and framing of the year.