Mr. Turner - Blu-ray Review

'It's fascinating to consider just how close to the real man Timothy Spall's grunting, gobbing, shagging version of the eponymous painter actually comes'.

Unlike biopics of figures either living or in living memory, films based on the lives of names from centuries past are far less bound by the need to emulate or impersonate. Both the director and their cast are given much more freedom to interpret how to bring historical individuals to the big screen, the worry of matching up to a widely recognisable personality somewhat removed. In the case of Mr. Turner, it's fascinating to consider just how close to the real man Timothy Spall's grunting, gobbing, shagging version of the eponymous painter actually comes.

Spall's Turner has an undeniable animalistic quality - a gruff badger in a top hat and overcoat, like a character out of a dark, forgotten Beatrix Potter story. But he's also remarkably human, at times exhibiting raw emotion that it's impossible not to become affected by. Turner's eccentricity in his later years is well documented, and it's something which Spall has some subtle fun with throughout, whilst wisely steering clear of anything close to caricature. Spall is one of the consummate British actors of our time, with everything from Hamlet to Harry Potter found within his filmography, and his performance here deserves to go down as one of his very best.

Away from Spall's central turn, however, Mr. Turner becomes a regrettably mixed affair. Mike Leigh's decision to focus on the final quarter century of the painter's life ensures this never feels like a brief overview. That said, his film still feels as though it rarely delves into many areas of Turner's life with satisfying depth. A huge array of characters come and go, some appearing for only a single section of the film before absenting themselves again, having made very little impact on the story as a whole.

The only relationship satisfyingly explored is that of Turner and his father (Paul Jesson), one which feels warm and genuine and that provides several of Mr. Turner's most affecting moments. In contrast, Turner's romance with Margate landlady Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey) is sweet but underdeveloped; whilst the relationship between him and devoted housemaid Hannah (Dorothy Atkinson) is largely limited to longing glances from her, guttural vocalisations of indifference from him, and an uncomfortable impromptu bonk against a bookshelf.

His professional acquaintances receive a similar cursory touch from Leigh. Whilst Turner and John Constable (James Fleet) exchanging loaded utterances of each other's surname in forced greeting gives us a droll insight into the two artists' famous feud, there's a sense that the director has missed exploring a narrative opportunity that could without doubt fill an entire feature in itself.

The truth is that, whilst Leigh's film is exquisitely shot, littered with images that could be displayed as works of art in themselves, it is in fact a plodding and torpid watch for much of its one hundred and fifty minutes. At the same time, Turner's life story feels truncated by Leigh's decision to only show us the final third of it, giving us far less insight into the man, his family and work than one might hope for from a two-and-a-half hour film. Mr. Turner is held together by beautiful cinematography and performances by a talented cast helmed by an excellent Spall; but Leigh's film is also unfortunately a long-winded chore, regularly making it a considerable challenge to appreciate its positives.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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