Most recently, I was given the chance to watch Mr. Turner at the Gulbenkian cinema in Canterbury. Given that I had heard nothing but praise for the film, I decided to accept that offer. When I came out of the cinema afterwards, I glanced up at the sky, realising for the first time just how beautiful the night sky is.
Let me first say that Mr. Turner is not a film for everyone. Some people might even be put off by the running time of the film, which for biographical drama film, stands surprisingly at 150 minutes. The film itself is very complex; the use of flowery and bombastic language so commonly used during its time is extremely prominent. Adding to that are the characters’ super-thick accents (we are talking glue-like thickness here) and more than a few people will struggle to understand the dialogue onscreen.
However, even if one tuned out the sound, the film would still be understandable, simply due to the direction of Mike Leigh and the outstanding performances of its actors and actresses. With the exception of its main character, one would be somewhat surprised at how strongly the women are portrayed in the film. Though many are still objectified like they were during that time, female independence comes in the form of Lesley Manville as Mary Somerville, a scientist no less, whom is constantly under the admiration of Turner and his father.
As a film based around the life and career of a painter, it is somewhat apt that there are many scenes in this film so beautifully shot that they look more like actual paintings than a movie. The opening sequence of the film is a brilliant sunset, so masterfully crafted that Mr. Turner himself could have painted it. Indeed, the film isn’t just narratively amazing, it is beautiful to watch as well. The cinematography is so breathtaking, that it is no wonder its cinematographer, Dick Pope, in my opinion, deservedly won the Vulcan Award at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.
Amidst all the news and rumours about this film however, most have not been about the film itself, but its lead actor, Timothy Spall. Although the Oscar nominations have not been announced yet, this year’s Oscar race for the Best Actor award is just as tight, if not more so, than last year’s, when a certain Tom Hanks did not even get a nomination for his role in Captain Phillips. The top names currently being considered is Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game, Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything, Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler, Steve Carrell for Foxcatcher, David Oyelowo for Selma, and Miles Teller for Whiplash. But the man film critics are raving about is Michael Keaton (that’s right, BATMAN) for his performance in Birdman.
But some forget that the actor to beat out Keaton for the Best Actor award at the recent Cannes Film Festival was none other than Mr. Turner’s own Timothy Spall. And it is easy to see why. Spall takes the character and transforms it into his own. Where other less capable actors might speak, Spall communicates the same message by simply grunting. Like a true artist, Spall literally takes the phrase ‘action speaks louder than words’ and applies it to the film. From simply staring at a young lady playing the piano to sexually exploiting his faithful housekeeper, played brilliantly by Dorothy Atkinson, every emotion the character experiences is proudly translated onscreen. Although the film may celebrate Turner’s genius, it is not afraid to expose his darker side as well.
However, Mr. Turner suffers the same fate as many other great films. It is no doubt a great and powerful piece of art, but it is also brutally tiresome to watch. The film has not much rewatchability, and honestly, I can’t see many youngsters out there who would enjoy such a film. In fact, during my screening, in a full house, I doubt there were more than ten people over the age of 25. Overall, Mr. Turner is an amazing film and, if you have an appreciation for art and the cinema, this is a film not to be missed this year.