TIFF 2014: Mr. Turner – Capsule Review

Director: Mike Leigh
Actors: Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson
Writer: Mike Leigh
Country: United Kingdom
Rating: 14A
Runtime: 149 min

Many are familiar with the paintings of J.M.W. Turner, but few know about this artist’s personal life. In his grand biopic Mr. Turner, director Mike Leigh sheds some light on this individual, revealing a caustic and unlikable man whose brilliance nevertheless cannot be denied. Timothy Spall presents an unforgettable performance as Mr. Turner. Already a well-respected painter, Turner is eccentric, predatory, and nearly non-verbal. Although the impenetrable Turner is an impossible character to like or understand, Spall masterfully imbues him with a hint of emotion that peeks through. The tale may be bleak, but the film is full of dark humour that relishes in the absurdities of everyday life. The wit is subtle, however, and is sure to leave an uncomfortable audience wondering if each joke was intended. The pacing of this film is slow and deliberate, building its atmosphere and lingering on shots of landscape that could be paintings themselves. Indeed, Leigh presents his world through the eyes of Turner, who viewed every scene as a potential painting. Mr. Turner depicts an individual so absorbed in his work that he is unable to properly function in society, and although Leigh remains respectful, he is not afraid to present a darkly honest portrait of this individual. Instead of creating a simplistic period piece about the artist, Leigh crafts a lengthy work that requires great patience to fully appreciate, but ultimately provides reward and revels in the beautiful world-view of a wholly unlikable man.

Review Score: 8 / 10