Director Mike Leigh's new film, "Mr. Turner," will take you by surprise on two distinct levels. One of which is the uncompromising and brilliant performance by Timothy Spall as the great British painter, J.M.W. Turner. The other being the breathtaking cinematography which nearly rivals the artist's work.
Turner was known for participating in laying the groundwork for the impressionist movement during the 19th century. His boorish and gruff demeanor did not detract from being recognized by his peers and buyers alike. For the last 25 years of his life, Leigh allows us to glean insight into Turner's unbridled passion for art, women and his commitment to create.
His romantic dalliances ran the gamut from ex-lover and mother of his two daughters (Ruth Sheen) to his devoted, less-than-fetching housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson) to a covert relationship with a loving widow (Marion Bailey) until his death in 1851. He somehow managed to be quite the ladies man in spite of being a sour-puss, bulldog countenanced cur.
Practically every scene in "Mr. Turner" is akin to a work of art. At times, you feel as though you're looking at a painting when, suddenly, the camera pulls back and you realize that it's a perfectly constructed shot of something real. Mr. Leigh is not typically known for lavish biographies but rather his contemporary takes on the human condition of ordinary lives (i.e. "Another Year" "Secrets and Lies"). This departure is exquisite.
Mr. Spall, as they say, was born to play this role. He grunts and grimaces his way through his portrayal of the contentious artist, sublimely relishing his off-putting behavior. Spitting on his canvases almost seems appropriate for this talented cad. It's an impeccable performance.
If you're up for plot twists, lots of action and frantic camerawork, take a pass on "Mr. Turner." But if you seek authenticity, beauty and actors who can transport you another time and place, indulge in its rapture.