Mr. Turner (2014)

Mr. Turner (2014)
  • Time: 150 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama | History
  • Director: Mike Leigh
  • Cast: Timothy Spall, Tom Wlaschiha, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson


Mr. Turner explores the last quarter century of the great if eccentric British painter J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). Profoundly affected by the death of his father, loved by a housekeeper he takes for granted and occasionally exploits sexually, he forms a close relationship with a seaside landlady with whom he eventually lives incognito in Chelsea, where he dies. Throughout this, he travels, paints, stays with the country aristocracy, visits brothels, is a popular if anarchic member of the Royal Academy of Arts, has himself strapped to the mast of a ship so that he can paint a snowstorm, and is both celebrated and reviled by the public and by royalty.


  • Rating: ☆☆
    This film is not recommended.

    He resembles a bulldog, grunts like a chimpanzee, bellows like a rhinoceros, and waddles like a duck. He’s Mr. Turner, one of the most prolific and talented artists of the 19th century in one of the dullest film biographies of the 21st century. Mike Leigh’s well-intentioned film celebrates the painter’s life, but the end result is as exciting as watching paint dry.

    Timothy Spall plays Mr. Turner, as repellently as possible. With a non-stop pout and lasting sneer, various guttural noises that represent dialog, and a stooped posture resembling Danny DeVito, the role, as written, stops this short of caricature. It is a bold performance that Mr. Spall delivers and the actor tries to valiantly add some substance to the eccentric part.

    Mr. Turner has some lovely details in its production values, with spot-on period costumes by Jacqueline Durran and exquisite art direction by Suzie Davies and Charlotte Watts, although Gary Yershon’s music score becomes intrusive. Foremost is Dick Pope’s ravishing photography which precisely captures Turner’s lighting effects and painterly style to the nth degree.

    But the real problem with the film is Leigh’s rather conventional screenplay that plays like a straightforward art history lesson. It ever builds to any emotional engagement. The film takes the Amadeus approach in its storytelling, presenting a childish lout as the artist but without much dramatic flourish. It is essentially a character study that strings together some historically accurate vignettes which grow monotonous as the film relentlessly emphasizes the artist’s boorish and self-centered ways.

    Leigh’s direction has some fine moments, yet he allows too many scenes to languish for far too long. Judicious editing would have brought more clarity and needed energy to the film. Supporting characters remain sketchy at best, and so is Turner’s acceptable erratic behavior.  At the core of the film is its weak plot structure. There’s no compelling story either, just lots of gorgeous atmosphere to behold.

    To say that this film is extremely well-made is faint praise. Leigh is a director who knows his craft. His planning and vision of this film is evident, even if his script lacks focus. But to say that his film is leisurely paced is an understatement as well. Mr. Turner is a visually stunning moviegoing experience, but it is also emotionally inert and aloof. The film shed no new light on this gifted artist whose lighting and color work were his lasting legacy. Sadly, this film will quickly dim and fade from one’s memory. GRADE: C+

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  • “The sun is God,” JMW Turner is believed to have uttered in his final moments, fitting last words for a man renowned for his use of light in his land and seascapes. Director Mike Leigh and longtime cinematographer Dick Pope look into and out of the painter’s soul, presenting the man in miniature details that accumulate into a sweeping yet intimate chronicle of the last 25 years of his life.

    Turner strikes one as a difficult man, gruff and curmudgeonly, religously devoted to the craft of his art, barely acknowleding his maid Hannah (Dorothy Atkinson) unless it’s to feel her up or take her against a bookcase, and intolerant of his mistress Sarah (Ruth Sheen) and their illegitimate daughters Evelina (Sandy Foster) and Georgiana (Amy Dawson). Speaking in a series of porcine grunts and snarls, Turner is not the most social of creatures though he behaves well enough to deal with clients and shrewd enough to navigate the party politics of the Royal Academy of Arts, whose exhibitions could make or break an artist’s reputation.

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