Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner is the sensational biopic of JMW Turner, the revered landscape painter who revolutionised the form in the early 19th century.
Turner is played by Leigh’s long standing collaborator Timothy Spall, who spent two years learning to paint in preparation to play Turner - his dedication was rewarded with a Best Actor win at the Cannes Film Festival. Spall’s Turner is a complicated contradiction; a difficult, temperamental yet brilliant man, better suited to a solitary pursuit like his painting. Turner basks in the adulation of his contemporaries all the while maintaining cold, distant relationships to those closest to him.
Nothing of great consequence happens, mostly Turner indulging in his work, but it’s wondrous from beginning to end. One shot after another is picturesque; Leigh composes on film as a painter would compose on a canvas. Many of the landscapes are as breathtaking as one of Turner’s own.
There is great substance to its style, too. The moments where Turner and his contemporaries debate the merit of a particular piece were riveting. This is an intelligent, unforgettable film; as striking as anything you’ll see hanging on a wall.