Timothy Spall gives a stellar performance in Mike Leigh's "Mr. Turner" about (who else) the wondrous romanticist painter, J.M.W. Turner, who put Edmund Burke's Theory of the Sublime into visual terms and prefigured abstract art in his sweeping canvases where sea and sky merge into one, a mixing in of motion and color.
Turner is consumed by work. He is constantly interrupted by Sarah Danby (Ruth Sheen), his first lover and mother of his two daughters, whom he sadly ignores.
Work is all that matters.
Turner does have a devoted housekeeper Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson), who he orders about and takes sexual advantage of. Hannah loves him but Turner does not reciprocate. Needless to say, in one blunt sex scene, Turner is no smooth talker.
He frequently grunts and not only during sex.
The painter does have one solid friend in his father (Paul Jesson) and their dialogue exchanges are as funny as they are earthy. Spall's Turner is the only character I know to date whose grunts convey a whole range of meaning.
On and on, Turner paints in his house and on the field. He is obsessed with finding the foremost expression of Nature in his brush.
As his round brick form bounces away from comments of other artists and critics, his face is composed in a plaster of paris scowl, a mask cloaking the sensitive person beneath.
The artist like a lethargic cannonball manages to sway away from most intruders except for the desperate painter Haydon (Martin Savage) who angrily refuses, then accepts, Turner's loan of fifty pounds.
Overwhelmed by domestic drama and the cry of a public that dooes not understand Turner's mixes of craze and color, he takes refuge in Chelsea. He manages to hit it off with an unassuming landlady, Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey). Turner moves in with Booth, allowing him to explore the wilds of sea and sky, unfettered.
The film actually shows what it might be like to be this man. We see him stroke, spit and claw into the canvas, creating real mountains of texture and weight.
It does not hold back either, showing Turner hacking away, battling with bronchitis, his lungs full of lead and cold rain, a by product of his times lashed to the mast in a snowstorm to capture the atmosphere as it moves and swirls.
"Mr. Turner" does well in showing the complete being not only as a person and a creator but also as a fragile cabinet of a being, shuttered in and almost shattered by the death of his father.
Turner, was a kind of psychic painter. Our millennial age of savage hurricanes, winter storms and tsunamis could just as well have been his time. Near the end of the film, Turner witnesses an early camera and remarks with a grunt, "They'll be carrying around those little boxes about instead of portfolios."
With a little imagination, Turner's boxes could even extend to today's iPhones.
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