Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The great British painter, J.M.W. Turner, was quite a character. In Mr. Turner (opening today), the long-time British character actor, Timothy Spall, plays the titular man as quite the character, to near-brilliant effect. Spall (American audiences may recognize him best as the villainous Wormtail from the Harry Potter films) gives an all-in, brutally honest performance and is reason alone to seek the film out.
Admittedly, this is a thoroughly British film, to the point that I had to turn subtitles on to understand the highly cockneyed accents. Spall plays Turner as he is portrayed in his final years, already having become one of the most respected and renowned painters in British history.
Turner still is painting but, it seems, has made as many enemies as he has followers. He squabbles and politely converses with fellow aristocrats, then visits brothels in his spare time. For a painter with such technique, he is shown living life full of color and working well outside of the lines.
But the movie is less biography and more about his personal relationships. He is extremely close to his father (spiritedly played by Paul Jesson) and has random, uncomfortable, sexual flings with his loyal housemaid, Hannah (Dorothy Atkinson). After his father's untimely death, he befriends a widowed landlady in a nearby town, whom he visits frequently, never halting his love for his craft.
Spall's performance keeps your eyes glued to the screen and Atkinson's is wondrously raw. She is just as deserving as Spall for any award accolades, and in fact, if I were in charge of handing out year-end awards, it is quite possible that both Spall and Atkinson would walk away victorious. They're that good.
And while their omission from the major award ceremonies is problematic, it was awesome to see that Mr. Turner earned a total of four Oscar nominations: Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design and Original Score. All of these are well-deserved, as Mr. Turner is definitely one of the most poetic, beautifully filmed movies I've seen in quite some time. Turner might have been proud as to its aesthetic qualities.
The dialogue may be hard to digest and the movie does run long. And with all of the talk about Michael Keaton being "born" to play the role of Riggan Thomson in Birdman, there is no other actor I could imagine pulling off the ugliness, the depth, the stoic brilliance of J.M.W. Turner, other than Timothy Spall. It's a turn that left me not only wanting to know more about the famous painter, but more about the man who played him.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Run Time: 2 hours 30 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Lesley Manville
Written and Directed by Mike Leigh (Another Year, Happy-Go-Lucky, Vera Drake, Topsy-Turvy, Secrets & Lies)
Opens locally on January 30, 2015.
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