Monday, November 10, 2014


By D.E.Levine

For years I've admired the oil paintings of William Turner (full name Joseph Mallord William Turner).  There are two in the Frick Musuem in New York City, a sunrise and a sunset, hanging opposite each other, each resplendent with rich colors.  I've seen Turner's paintings at museums throughout the world but never knew much about the man.

Director Mike Leigh has once again given us a unique and absorbing film about the painter, representing him as a cantankerous middle-aged man who lacks social graces but has the ability to create magnificent paintings.

Mr. Turner concentrates on the last 25 years of the painter's life as he created magnificent and majestic paintings that pushed landscape painting toward impressionism.

Played by Timothy Spall, who won the 2014 Best Actor Award in Cannes, France, for his portrayal, Mr. Turner grunts a lot and isn't very sociable,  He shares a studio with his elderly father (Paul Jesson) whom he very obviously adores, and has a housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson) who is also his current lover.

Denying their very existence to the world and meeting with them half-heartedly we see that William Turner has a spurned, estranged and ignored a former mistress (Ruth Sheen), their two grown daughters and a grandchild, all of whom he ignores.

Mr. Turner is clearly not a family man.  He's not even a friendly and sociable man.  Spurred by inventiveness and artistic desires, he travels extensively, to other countries like Belgium and other towns, like Margate.  In Margate, using a pseudonym, he rents a small seaside apartment from a widow, Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey) and proceeds to produce some of his greatest.  Eventually, Turner, the giant of the art world, takes Booth, the big-hearted country woman, as his last mistress and the relationship proves instrumental in his transitioning from classical painter to more of an abstract, modern impressionist.

Leigh also gives us a look into the London art scene which was dominated by the Royal Academy of Arts.  An already famous Turner goes his own way, developing new techniques and masterpieces because he refuses to be restrained by the limitations of the art world and the Academy.

The famed art critic John Ruskin is Turner's advocate, but Turner doesn't appear to appreciate him.  Despite his various affairs, his participation in the Arts Academy and his commissions,   appears to be a loner.  He's neither affectionate nor considerate and, as portrayed by Spall, spends most of his time grunting rather than speaking.  As portrayed in this film, for Turner, art was his method of communicating and commenting on the world around him.