It’s not often (in fact never) that I write a film review but when I saw the riveting biopic from Mike Leigh about J.M.W. Turner I was instantly smitten and knew that it would be the focus of my next blog…
So, to start it has to be about the lead actor Timothy Spall who played the artist Turner magnificently. Grandiose in character. Bombastic in attitude. Direct and spirited in attitude. Observant and insightful. Warm and loving towards his father yet demeaning and spiteful to his estranged daughters. Penetrating and sharp. Intuitive and frisky. Committed and passionate to his art. Gifted with the qualities of paint and acutely aware of colour.
A man of complex disposition. Held in great repute by the Royal Academy but hugely disappointed by their own lack of free thought and awareness of the world at large. A world that was changing fast. Turner saw and understood this and moved his art in a direction (knowingly or unknowingly) to befit these changing times.
Apart from his father, and later a relationship with his landlady in Margate, his art took priority above everything else. Travel was an essential part of his life. The film wonderfully exposes the sumptuous quality of the light… skies and sunsets of the places he visited. Starting off in Amsterdam you see him feverishly sketching the sun setting behind a windmill.
Another great touch was the part where Turner tied himself to the mast of a ship in the middle of a storm so he could experience being within the storm itself. Whilst he told his contemporaries this is what he had done, there is no formal proof that this in fact happened. Though I love the idea of him risking his life to feel the force of the wind and rain lashing down on his face. To us artists there is no better way to ‘feel’ a moment in time and nature than being there yourself.
Spall ‘grrrrrrs’ his way through the film and this characteristically indifferent attitude to most things except his own painting is undeniably rich, mesmerising and full of expression as he stamps his way around London. A force to be reckoned with. Despite the many hurdles he had to overcome including overhearing a private view from Queen Victoria in which she denounces his newest paintings as vulgar and ugly.
They are indeed masterpieces of nature and the changing landscape of London. Ahead of his time and acutely aware of the impact of his work. Knowingly turning down a hefty sum of £100,000 in his later life as he bequeaths his entire works to the nation after his death. We can, and have, learned much from this distinguished, highly accomplished and exuberant man. A telling insight into his life and loves as well as his genius with paint.
In cinemas now!