Opening to rave reviews in Cannes, Mike Leigh’s staunchly crafted, wonderfully shot study of the great Romantic landscape painter’s later years triumphs as both a detailed, almost Dickensian period piece but also as a contemplative look at artistic inspiration in later life. Leigh’s script shows us the artist from a number of angles. We see his unhealthy relationship with his lowly housekeeper; a late, tender love for a landlady he boards with; his relationship with his father; his non-relationship with two illegitimate children and, of course, his rock-star persona in the Royal Academy of Arts. Leigh cobbles these scrappy pieces together to show the ramshackle life of a troubled man who finds majesty in nature and harnesses it on the canvas while lacking the patience or disposition to harness much else. Alongside his great old mugger Timothy Spall – all grunts, strops and strokes in the lead role – Leigh delivers a biopic of great rigor and detail. He leaves the lower middle classes of contemporary England for only the second time in his filmmaking career, but this feels no less personal or authentic for it. It’s simply a film about a brilliant, difficult, septuagenarian artist by a brilliant, difficult septuagenarian artist.
Mr. Turner | Directed by Mike Leigh (UK 2014) with Timothy Spall. Starts November 6
Originally published in issue #132, November 2014.