PICTURE Perfect; the Story's Gripping, the Cinematography's Mesmerising, but It's Timothy Spall's Grunting, Growling, Spitting Rendition of JMW Turner That Gives Mike Leigh's Biopic a Stroke of Genius

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), November 2, 2014 | Go to article overview

PICTURE Perfect; the Story's Gripping, the Cinematography's Mesmerising, but It's Timothy Spall's Grunting, Growling, Spitting Rendition of JMW Turner That Gives Mike Leigh's Biopic a Stroke of Genius


Byline: MATTHEW BOND FILM OF THE WEEK

Mr Turner

Cert: 12A Time: 2hrs 29mins ****

The Fighting Temeraire, that wonderful work of art by J M W Turner showing the 40-year-old ship of the line being towed up the Thames to the breakers' yard in 1838, is regularly voted Britain's favourite painting. And I dare say, if you asked the great British public, there's every chance they'd vote for Turner as their favourite British artist too, rivalled perhaps only by his contemporary John Constable.

But, art buffs apart, what do most of us know about Turner himself? That he liked sea, ships and storms and was without peer when it came to painting the ever-changing subtleties of the sky? I'm embarrassed to admit that's pretty much where my knowledge of the great man stops. Which is why Mike Leigh's new film, Mr Turner, is such a revelation.

Aided and abetted by his extraordinary leading actor, Timothy Spall, Leigh depicts Joseph Mallord William Turner in a way that few of us will ever have imagined. This is not some refined man of art, sighing quietly as he works methodically behind his easel.

No, this son of a Covent Garden barber is an uncouth brute of a man who grunts, growls and gurns his way through his messily bohemian life, tossing away his paintdaubed rags as thoughtlessly as he denies the existence of his illegitimate children.

But, thanks to Spall, we see he's not without a heart. 'When I look in the glass I see a gargoyle,' he tells the Margate landlady destined to become his final lover, which, as self-assessments go, is a bit harsh but you know what he means. Scraping, smudging, even spitting at his canvasses, this Turner is definitely a bit rough around the edges.

Until some art historian persuades me that Leigh has got it all wrong (and one or two naysayers are beginning to emerge), it's this startling and vividly unexpected depiction of an artist that we've all grown up with and assumed we knew that makes Mr Turner such a powerful and important film. Beautifully photographed by Dick Pope - clearly a Turner fan himself - it really is a game-changer.

Lying at the heart of it is Spall's powerhouse performance. If I'm absolutely honest, it's a little bit too much for me, a bit too full-on, but it's already won Spall the Best Actor award at Cannes and I'm sure it will win him more before the awards season is over.

His performance may be loud but it's properly revelatory too - at one moment, he's touchingly showing us the human frailties of the man, the next he's rumbustiously demonstrating the talent and bull-nosed determination that made Turner a genius. This, we see, is not just an artist who gets himself tied to a mast just so he can experience a snowstorm at sea, but one who takes an autodidact's delight from a conversation about light and colour with the pioneering scientist - or natural philosopher, as she describes herself - Mary Somerville. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

PICTURE Perfect; the Story's Gripping, the Cinematography's Mesmerising, but It's Timothy Spall's Grunting, Growling, Spitting Rendition of JMW Turner That Gives Mike Leigh's Biopic a Stroke of Genius
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.