Today’s Cinema Society screening was a must-see in terms of the visual beauty of the film, which explores the last 25 years in the life of controversial, extremely eccentric British painter J.M.W. Turner, who died in 1851. It’s also a must-see for the performance by Timothy Spall as Turner, but more on that in a second. Director by Mike Leigh has managed to capture landscapes, seascapes, human faces in the way that Turner must have viewed them because nearly every scene is like a work of art. The detail, the colors, the breadth of the shots are spectacular.
Turner couldn’t have been an easy part to play. He’s miserable to everyone close to him except his father. He treats his long-suffering housekeeper like a doormat and occasional sex toy. He’s not only dismissive of a former mistress with whom he had two daughters but denies their existence. And he takes pleasure in poking members of the Royal Academy of Arts with whom he socializes. It isn’t until he meets the landlady of a seaside rooming house where he stays while painting nautical settings that we see any real humanity in him. Enter Mike Leigh regular Timothy Spall, who, with his smashed-in face and stubby body, isn’t anybody’s idea of a leading man. But lead the cast he does in “Mr. Turner.” He fully inhabits the character and will undoubtedly be mentioned at Oscar time.
All that said, the film, which clocks in at two-and-a-half hours, is insufferably and unnecessarily long. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way at the screening (the man in front of me was asleep for most of it, nodding off within the first half-hour). The reviews so far have been rapturous, but I thought many of the scenes dragged on and on without leading us anywhere. When Turner was on his deathbed, I leaned over and whispered to Michael, “Let him die already.” Yeah, it was too long. For me anyway. My other gripe is that I couldn’t understand much of the dialogue. Whether it was due to the poor acoustics of the old theater where it screened or the thick accents of the characters (probably both), I had to strain to make out what was being said.
But again, the acting and the visuals are there. For sure.