Critically acclaimed filmmaker and Film Circuit favourite Mike Leigh (Another Year, Happy-Go-Lucky) makes a triumphant return to the screen with Mr. Turner, a masterful portrait of the renowned English painter J.M.W. Turner. Yet another of Leigh’s historical studies of art versus commerce (following his acclaimed Gilbert & Sullivan biopic Topsy-Turvy), Mr. Turner promises to be a hit among critics and audiences alike, and a major contender in the upcoming awards season.
Leigh’s long-time collaborator Timothy Spall (The Love Punch, the Harry Potter series) won the Best Actor prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival as the cantankerous Turner, whose brilliance with the brush overshadows his sometimes appalling lack of social graces. Centring on the later years of Turner’s life, the film opens as the painter returns from an expedition to Belgium and attempts to settle back into his previous lifestyle. Among the skeletons in his closet are an estranged mistress, two grown daughters, and a grandchild to whom he pays little mind and whose existence he denies to the outside world. Travelling under a pseudonym, he rents a small seaside apartment from the twice-widowed landlady Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey, Vera Drake), who will eventually become his last mistress.
Leigh slowly immerses us in Turner’s world during a period when the painter was pushing landscape painting towards the vanguard of impressionism, striving to capture the temperament of the man and his times rather than reducing them to a series of iconic images. While Leigh’s work with actors has often dominated the discussion around his films, Mr. Turner should leave no lingering doubts that he is every bit as masterful a visual storyteller.