Director: Mike Leigh
Stars: Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Paul Jesson, Lesley Manville
Timothy Spall relives his teenage years
Mike Leigh is a pretty underrated director. He’s the king of British kitchen sink dramas and creating fully realised characters who the audience can fully invest in and care about. If you look at some of his very best films (Secrets and Lies, Another Year etc.) you’ll find that there’s very little in the way of plot, but because the characters are so good it doesn’t really matter. I’ve often said that good characters are even more important than a good plot. The same can be said for Mike’s latest effort which is basically 2 and a half hours of bits and bobs which still manages to be largely enthralling.
I rarely care much about good acting, but even I couldn’t help but marvel at the superb ensemble splashed in the screen. There’s a fantastic array of Leigh regulars including Ruth Sheen and Lesley Manville in minor, but memorable parts. Of course, at the centre of it all is the always marvellous Timothy Spall who has never been more marvellous and grunts ten times more than your average teenager. It’s one of those rare performances where the actor becomes the character. Tim had obviously been immersing himself in the character as he had been learning to paint for a few years in preparation of the role, which is a very Daniel Day Lewis-like stunt to perform.
Arguably the biggest character in the film, however, is Mike Leigh’s astonishing directing. Every shot is like a painting, which of course is very apt for the subject matter of the film. Again, I’m not usually the sort who weeps over scenery, but there are some shots which really took my breath away. Credit does need to be given to Dick Pope, who managed to photograph the film to perfection. He’s worked with Mike Leigh many times in the past, but Mr Turner has got to be the most visually beautiful of all his films.
Just like the artist, Mr Turner the film is suitably unconventional in its storytelling. It has none of the traditional three act structure and is instead a collection of scenes which offer a small insight into Mr Turner’s life. It took a good half an hour for me to get into it, just because the pacing is so unhurried and there’s so little plot, however once I got into it and started to immerse myself in the world, I began to really enjoy it. There are plenty of lovely moments and some are very funny. Highlights for me include the initially moving moment when Turner paints a young lady in a brothel and starts to hysterically cry at the sadness of it all, however his sobbing is so otherworldly that it becomes incredibly comical. I also loved the cartoonish critic who’s the embodiment of snobbery.
Mr Turner is an enigmatic little film. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something about this film which I really like. I’ve not been able to shake it out my head for most of today and I can’t quite work out why. There’s something very mysterious about it which keeps you engaged. The score adds a sinister edge to the film and kind of suits the character. I liked how nothing was Hollywoodised and Turner wasn’t presented as a perfect human being. In fact, sometimes he came across as someone quite vile who takes advantage of women and neglects his children. It makes the film so much more human and engaging. I also loved the solemn ending, which was such a typical Leigh ending. It comes highly recommended from me.