Film review: Mr Turner (4 out of 5)

I may have come to this movie rather late in the day but it was well worth the wait.

Timothy Spall is Mr Turner
Timothy Spall is Mr Turner

Director and writer Mike Leigh is no stranger to an historical piece but this is probably his most successful project of that genre.

British painter J.M.W. Turner remains one the most popular artists of his time; his atmospheric free spirited works are admired by young and old.

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This film looks at Turner’s final 26 years - from flourishing artist and member of the British Academy to a man out of time, whose work was considered past its prime.

There have been plenty of people raving about Timothy Spall in the title role and it’s well deserved.

He spent some time before filming learning to paint so he could look authentic and his whole demeanour is impeccable and convincing.

Turner was far from an easy man to understand and get along with. He effectively abandoned his first mistress and children, had a rather strange relationship with his housekeeper who was his first mistress’s niece, and finally created a separate life in a different house with another woman.

In true Mike Leigh style the cast has few very familiar ‘box office’ actors and one of the better known faces, James Fleet, has just a cameo role as John Contstable in a delightful scene where Turner shows his total disrespect for his peer.

Dorothy Atkinson is the pick of the rest of the cast as the much put-upon housekeeper Hannah Danby, adding some humourous touches, and quite rightfully has the final scene.

In fact you can spend the film spotting quality British acting talent who have appeared in numerous TV and film roles.

As you would expect, the cinematography is superb, although I would have preferred a few extra seconds for some of the exquisite shots.

Having said that, though, the film is plenty long enough - at two and a half hours - which certainly tested my body’s patience, although the movie holds your attention.

It was good to see Petworth House, where Turner actually stayed and which still houses several of his works, being used as one of the settings.

It was also gratifying to hear language of the period being used and some delightful background music.

Overall this is a fascinating, if very long, glimpse of a remarkable man and surely will notch up some awards in the months to come.

Film details: Mr Turner (12A) 150mins

Director: Mike Leigh

Starring: Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson

Screening courtesy of Horsham Capitol