Writer-director Mike Leigh (Happy Go Lucky, Topsy-Turvy) and actor Timothy Spall combine to plunge us headlong into Victorian England, where fine arts painter J.M.W. Turner (Spall) scuttles down streets like a choleric, fat crab, on the business of creating his groundbreaking, world-changing oils and watercolors of natural landscapes. Turner is a fairly repellent character – grumpy, sexist, mendacious – but an unusually fascinating one to observe, and Leigh lavishes a mountain of detail on him and his surroundings. Dick Pope’s cinematography is appropriately gorgeous, and the support playing, especially by Marion Bailey as Turner’s inamorata Mrs. Booth, lends authenticity and humor. Seeing the settings through Turner’s eyes helps us excuse the artist’s boorish behavior and appreciate his oeuvre as the epitome of 19th-century English visual romanticism. Artists and artsy audiences will lap it up (149 min.).
Director: Mike Leigh
Producer: Georgina Lowe, Tessa Ross, Norman Merry and Gail Egan
Cast: Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage, Joshua McGuire, Ruth Sheen, David Horovitch, Karl Johnson, Sandy Foster, Amy Dawson, Richard Bremmer and Niall Buggy