Respond to these rapid questions in our Mr Turner quiz and we will tell you which Mr Turner character you are. Play it now.
The J.M.W. Turner biopic directed by Mike Leigh is described as “austere” by critics, which means it is slow, dismal, and purposefully difficult to adore. Despite this, it is fascinating, and the acting and photography are superb. Leigh, the author and director of timeless films like “Naked” and “Secrets and Lies,” typically crafts stories that are contemporary and frequently have a more urban feel. However, it’s just as compelling a mode because Leigh’s emotionally reserved nature comes through more strongly and seems attuned to his buttoned-up, frequently repressed characters, who shove negative thoughts way down inside themselves, practically to the bottoms of their own stomachs. His notable exceptions, such as the excellent “Topsy-Turvy” and this movie, require him to work in a somewhat different vein, and be more attentive to composition, atmosphere, and period-accurate psychology;
One of many such characters in “Mr. Turner” is the title character. The Cockney painter, portrayed by Timothy Spall, filled frequently unimpressive landscapes with a highly spiritual mood that is fascinatingly difficult to link with the man we see onscreen. Turner, a member of the Romantic school of painters whose work eventually led, on the ever widening chronology of visual art, to the Impressionists, was sometimes referred to as the “painter of light.” The film is aptly enthralled by light and color, as well as the processes involved in producing or recreating them. Turner can ramble on and on about light, but he is rigid when it comes to talking about everything else in life. When his father (Paul Jesson), who travels the world purchasing his son paint, advises him that ultramarine is “going up a guinea a bladder,” or when his Scottish polymath cousin Mary Somerville (Lesley Manville) instructs him on the magnetic characteristics of violet.
Turner is a “stiff,” but to call him that when he’s not discussing art would be an understatement. When he is not painting or talking about painting, much of his behavior is socially awkward, callous, and frequently incomprehensibly inappropriate, making you question if he is suffering from a mental illness. More than the more functional people around him, he appears to lack impulse control. He occasionally appears to be “not quite wired right,” to put it in a modern context. His astounding talent and the fame it gave him help to explain, at least in part, why nearly no one criticizes him for being eccentric or piggish. To be fair, though, the 1829 death of his father, an incident that takes place early in this film, may have been the catalyst for much of the conduct that Leigh explores; sadness tends to accentuate one’s personality as certainly as intoxicants may. Turner is seen entering a brothel, asking to draw a prostitute, sobbing uncontrollably, and then having sex with his housekeeper (whose expression indicates that this is not an uncommon occurrence, and is in fact one aspect of their complicated relationship). He is a broken man.
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We also see Turner interacting with his peers, many of whom were equally famous landscape painters, at a gallery exhibition. He strolls around inspecting the gallery’s layout, comments to a friend who is also a painter about how a woman’s leg in a panorama could use some highlight, and then shockingly paints a single daub of red in the middle of a meticulously finished landscape painting, which another painter interprets as a declaration of war on whatever clichés the painting might contain. The final section is where “Mr. Turner” most sets itself apart from previous documentaries on art and artists, as well as from the majority of movie biographies.
Mr Turner Quiz
“Mr. Turner” understands creative people on every conceivable level and translates that understanding with a deftness rarely seen outside of astute documentaries about creative people, similar to Leigh’s “Topsy-Turvy,” which showed the world of Gilbert and Sullivan almost exclusively through their eyes, and the eyes of their performers and collaborators. Watching it makes you feel as though you’re a part of its universe, chatting with the painters, and experiencing subtle shifts in conventional wisdom and unexpected changes in artistic focus that can only be detected by experts who are deeply connected to and in perfect control of their craft.
Also, you will find out which character are you in this Mr Turner quiz.
For fans of Leigh, the great performances are not a surprise. With Turner, a figure who is impossible to fully understand (as if you’d want to! ), Spall, who has had a tremendously varied career, adds another superb portrait to his own actor’s gallery. He can be haughty, brusque, and unaware. However, he exudes a profound sadness that comes across most clearly in scenes like the one seen at the top of this page, when he is viewed from a distance and is seen traveling through the kinds of landscapes that he himself may paint. The interconnection of all things is exemplified in these pictures, which were taken by Dick Pope, Leigh’s go-to cinematographer.