By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2014--MR. TURNER  Send This Review to a Friend

Writer-director Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner,” shown at the 2014 New York Film Festival, is a double triumph. Score one for the sumptuous, involving biographical film that Leigh has achieved. And there is another victory for Timothy Spall, who gives a provocative, rounded and touching portrait of British artist J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), with his fierce dedication to painting his favorite subjects as well as his relations with the art world of the time and with his women.

Spall pinpoints Turner’s anti social attitude well, and also communicates his passion for painting seaside scenes and ships, as shown in the Margate coastal settings. Spall also is convincing in defying those who would condemn his art, advanced for its time, and his preference for leaving his work for posterity to his country, rather than accepting a bundle of money form a collector.

But it is through his relationships with women that we see Turner at is most human, and also at his most crass. Dorothy Atkinson plays his housekeeper, with whom Spall perfunctorily has sex, using her for his pleasure but not giving her any warmth or love in return. It is in later life that he takes up seriously with his landlady Sophie Booth, a widow, given a lovely performance by Marion Bailey. They form a strong attachment, and Spall makes clear that Turner cares for her, as she does for him.

There is a very droll scene in which critic John Ruskin praises the work of Turner, who is shown to seem ungrateful by criticizing Ruskin. Joshua McGuire plays Ruskin in an ultra effeminate manner that is quite funny.

The final scenes in Turner’s life, when he is fatally ill and fading, evoke pity, not only for him, but for Sophie, who will be pained at losing him, given what he has come to mean in her life.

The film might gain from being shortened a bit, but it succeeds as a sprawling look at the celebrated artist, his work and his life, and Spall’s performance reaches award-level status. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Reviewed October 21, 2014.

  

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