Monday, 21 March 2016


“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” - Jonathan Swift

Joseph Mallord William Turner, better known as J.M.W. Turner, was born on April 23, 1775, in Covent Garden, London, England. A sickly child, Turner was sent to live with his uncle in rural England, and it was during this period that he began his artistic career. As a landscape painter, Turner brought luminosity and Romantic imagery to his subjects. His work, although initially realistic, became more fluid and poetic, and is now regarded as a predecessor to Impressionism. Turner died on December 19, 1851, in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London, England.

Mike Leigh the British film-maker has directed several movies about life in England, but also made the Gilbert and Sullivan biographical film "Topsy-Turvy" (1999), a film that we enjoyed. In 2014, Leigh turned his attention to Turner and made a film about the last few years of the artist’s life. The film "Mr Turner" (2014) stars Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey and Karl Johnson.

The film begins when Turner was already in middle-age, already a famous artist. Turner (Spall) is revealed as a man of many contradictions, sharing his later life mainly with two women. For sexual favours he often sought his housekeeper Sarah Danby (Atkinson) while preferring the company of the widow Mrs Booth (Bailey) with whom he lodged part of the year in Margate, (Danby never knew of Booth’s existence until just before Turner’s death). This seemingly complex life is compounded by the tortuous personality of the artist and his varied actions, which range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

The acting is excellent and Spall gives a magnificent performance, for which he was awarded the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. He plays Turner with the complexity his genius demands. Both Atkinson and Baily play their roles with wonderful mastery and they support greatly Spall’s acting. The remaining ensemble of actors is equally well-chosen and deliver performances that complement the main actors’ wonderfully well.

The film’s cinematographer Dick Pope does a wonderful job and it seems that almost every shot looks like a painting in its own right. The feel and look of 19th century England is recreated well and although the film doesn’t recreate Turner’s paintings and their delightfully luminous colours, what we see on screen is a marvellous canvas on which Turner creates his masterpieces.

We quite enjoyed this long film (it goes for 150 minutes), and although I would not class it as a masterpiece, I would quite easily say that it is an excellent film. Some viewers used to special effects, car chases and convoluted plots full of improbable twists will no doubt view this film and be bored to death. So be warned: This is a slow, deliberate and beautiful movie, that deals with complicated people and sometimes confronting topics. Well worth seeing if you are a thinking adult.


  1. I like your parting sentence ... 'if you are a thinking adult'. This film has been in my Netflix queue and is working it's way to the top ... thank you for the thoughtful review!

  2. Are you sure Turner married? The reason I ask is because art critic John Ruskin was executor to Turner's will and supervisor of the artist's legacy. Ruskin burned all the work Turner did during his last happy decade with Mrs Booth, presumably because Turner had never married and here he was having sex day and night with a woman not his wife. Ruskin was trying to protect Turner from scandal.