On the Silver Screen – Mr. Turner
Mr. Turner chronicles the last 25 years of famous 19th century artist J.M.W. Turner as he works to retain his reputation as an artist as well as maintain the relationships in his life.
Getting this out of the way first but this film is long and at 150 minutes it is sometimes too long. There are many slow scenes where people sit around talking about nothing of any real significance. Scenes like this are instrumental in fleshing out the characters and giving us a feel for the time period but for me there were too many of these and they run far too long. Many of these scenes were great and contained lots of interesting dialogue but for me the running time of the film could have been cut by at least half an hour to bring it to a slick 2 hour running time and sharpen the impact of these moments.
Timothy Spall’s performance is nothing short of staggering. I was continually impressed by the unrestrained nature of his portrayal of Turner. Spall clearly wasn’t afraid to show a lack of dignity in some scenes which injects a lot of humanity into the character. The fact that Turner looks a little odd is a large part of the film and Spall takes full advantage of that to add a level of intentional awkwardness to many of his scenes. Despite this he does conduct himself with a quiet confidence to the public and hides his insecurities and -in some cases- disdain for those around him really well. Spall’s layered performance accomplishes all aspects of this character beautifully and holds the audience attention perfectly. It’s also worth noting how much he conveys by simply grunting.
In terms of plot the film is both fairly light as well as being fairly heavy depending on what part of his life is being focused on. The earlier scenes prior to the death of his father drag on with far too many characters coming in and out to really get a feel for Turner or his life. When his father dies the film switches gears rapidly and starts to really focus on Turner, flipping between showing his unique art skills as well as his important relationships. For better or for worse the film presents a very raw look at the man and challenges the audience to make up their own mind about him.
It’s a bold choice for a biopic as many of them give an honest enough portrait but come down firmly on the side of encouraging the audience to warm to them. This isn’t the case here and it feels very refreshing. Turner is an interesting and talented historical figure who had a great many eccentricities that are in no way apologised for here.
Unfortunately this film suffers many of the same issues that biopics tend to have. Namely that such a long period of time is covered so some of it feels rushed are glossed over. There are many scenes where this happens and it can feel a little clumsy at times and robbed some moments of the true impact that they deserved.
The film looks beautiful with every opportunity to marvel at scenic landscapes exploited. I got a real sense of where Turner’s inspiration came from and the vibrant colouring gives the audience an idea of how he sees the world. I feel that the film could have benefited from more moments showing Turner’s inspiration because those moments were the greatest asset the film has. More focus on the art would have made it more interesting to me for sure.
A very effective portrayal of one of history’s greatest artists with a raw and honest performance by Timothy Spall. He plays Turner with an unrestrained honesty that presents the artist as a flawed and layered human being who has profound moments as well as moments that lack in dignity. In short he feels human and the audience is encouraged to form their own opinion of Turner which is refreshing when it comes to biopics.
The film is very long and many scenes drag on with very little value added to the overall plot. There is also a tendency to skip over large chunks of the time frame explored which gives some of the film a rushed feeling.
Visually the film is stunning and showcases lots of beautiful scenery to serve as inspiration for Turner’s art. The audience is partially shown what inspires Turner to create the paintings that he does and there is a lot of memorable imagery throughout.