Verdict: 4 / 5
I’ll admit it right now – period pieces are my Kryptonite.
I love historical settings, the dialogue, the famous characters, the insights into common humanity across generations. The rampant success of shows like Downton Abby shows that I am probably not alone in this. Mr Turner, for its part, it’s a thoughtfully created piece on the life of a famous subject that does its best to be historically accurate while maintaining some filmability. It will never have the huge dramatic appeal of a larger production, but what it aimed to do, it does very well.
The film focuses on J.M.W. Turner (Spall), a renowned landscape painter who worked primarily in the first half of the 1800s. Unlike many other biopics, the film only focuses on the final 25 years of Turner’s life, and seeks to explore some of his character, interactions and eccentricities during this time. His difficult family life, his affairs, and his difficult dealings with the art world and the public are shown in one way or another. Of course, primarily on show is his relentless determination in regards to his paintings and works.
The film is largely carried by the authenticity of it all. The costuming, set design and dialogue are all spot on and authentic. Spall’s performance in the lead is also hugely commendable, as he steps into the shoes of this curmudgeonly man and perfectly recreates many of his mannerisms and ways of speaking.
Also of note is the filming style, which often seeks to draw allusions to the maritime scenes, sunsets and landscapes that were so typical of Turner’s work. The cinematography and music seem to blend together to become as much of a character or setting of tone as anything else in the film.
Mr Turner, of course, ends when Turner himself dies, and if his life story isn’t exciting to you, the film won’t be. But as an insight into a distinctly English artist of the period, this film is about as good as I think one could be.