Rated: R for some sexual content Reviewed by: Jim Release date: December 19, 2014 Released by: Sony Pictures Classics
A protracted, if exquisitely made limited biopic has cynical honesty and wit going for it mainly set in the latter part of its successful, yet controversial subject's life in the early mid 19th Century. Even if it is a tad unintelligible at times to the Western ear.
An always creative Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies, Vera Drake, Happy-Go-Lucky) takes on notorious, anomalous British painter and womanizer J.M.W. Turner with veracity belying narrative convention as Timothy Spall (remembered as 'Wormtail' in the Harry Potter canon) grunts his way through a bracing role with a certain subdued insurgency and tempestuousness.
Turner, called Billy by his father (Paul Jesson) whom he lived with for three decades, made a name for himself for his vivid renditions of countrysides that also precipitated scorn from his detractors which he openly loathed or ignored.
Having two daughters with Sarah Danby (Ruth Sheen), he shunned them for widow Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey) as "Mr. Mallard". Turner's sour idiosyncratic nature led him to display transgression in his profession while risible among the social strata.
The vinegary, portly fellow is seen in London and the seaside and monosyllabic tone isn't favorable towards new Queen Victoria denigrating his work at the Royal Academy. An extreme artist at heart loves to capture the kind of fierce weather that is embraced by meteorologists and colleagues today on such programs as 'The Weather Channel'. Also, not bashful to project nubile bodies at a brothel.
Leigh has made plucky, rather invigorating celluloid that can be ruefully bitter and darkly wry but not as a typical period piece as the observation and interaction throughout may test even some discerning arthouse cineastes. But, he gets the most from one of his 'regulars' in Spall to work off his co-stars with palpable close-knit emphasis. A live-in housekeeper with psoriasis and restricted gait, Hannah, allows for Dorothy Atkinson to have an intimate rapport with her brusque, disparaging co-star, loving him not for what he did to help inaugurate the Impressionists of his kind.
Mr. Turner may have its share of contemptuousness in its approach and execution with more than admirable restraint and hue as reflected in an agile, refined production. Particularly an astonishing way of natural use of illumination to vivificate an artist's inspiration by way of dynamic lenser Dick Pope. Leigh's way through what might be viewed as a sluggish costume drama still somehow splendidly sparkles in its own offbeat, variegated way.