Review – Mr Turner

Poster for 2014 biographical drama Mr Turner

Genre: Biopic
Certificate: 12
UK Release Date: 31st October 2014
Runtime: 150 minutes
Director: Mike Leigh
Writer: Mike Leigh
Starring: Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Paul Jesson, Marion Bailey, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville, Joshua McGuire 
Synopsis: British artist JMW Turner pursues romance and innovations in the form of painting as he enters the final few decades of his life.



It’s nearly awards season time, so the historical biopics are coming out in force. First out of the blocks is Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner, which traces the life of JMW Turner – one of Britain’s most decorated and famous painters. In the lead role is Timothy Spall, with a performance that scooped the Best Actor prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

JMW Turner (Spall) is one of the most exciting painters in the UK, living with his father (Paul Jesson) and housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson) as he continues to work. Following the death of his father, Turner begins a romantic relationship with Margate landlady Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey).

It’s Timothy Spall’s performance that makes Mr Turner the film that it is. He is an enormous physical presence, complete with an array of grunts and noises that make him the archetypal grumpy old man. This is a character who puts so much personality into his work that he doesn’t have any left for himself.  Spall also does a great job with the fruity period dialogue, really selling the bawdy comedy of the film.

| "The universe is chaotic. And you make us see it."

This ribald humour proves to be the most consistently entertaining aspect of Mr Turner. Leigh’s script is an absolute goldmine of linguistic trickery, turning what could be the usual bland dialogue of the period drama into something witty and often incredibly funny.

The film is at its strongest when it’s letting its characters spar verbally, particularly in a memorable early scene in which Ruth Sheen appears as Turner’s mistress. Her character is an acid-tongued delight, setting up the film as something other than the standard stuffy entry in its genre.

Unfortunately, Mr Turner takes a terribly poor turn in its third act. As it moves towards the end of its protagonist’s life, the film loses all of its sense of pacing and meanders listlessly towards its conclusion. A previously brisk hour and a half of cinema gives way to a final hour of plodding monotony that loses all of the good feeling the film has earnt.

| "My little lad could draw before he could read or write."

It’s a shame because Mr Turner is a film with a tonne of things in its favour. Outside of the strong performances – including a memorably posh appearnace from Joshua McGuire as an art critic – and the acerbic script, there’s real pleasure in Dick Pope’s majestic cinematography, which makes every shot feel like a work of art.

But it’s difficult to get over the fact that, by the end, the film is so slow that it feels as if it’s moving backwards.


Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

Boasting a great sense of humour and a central performance that serves as a true masterclass of acting, Mr Turner comes close to being the film that director and star are capable of.

However, a yawn-inducing mess of a final act has the film trudging to its inevitable conclusion. It loses all of the energy of its opening, akin to finishing a vibrantly colourful masterpiece with an enormous smudge of grey.


Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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