is a detailed portrayal - flaws included - of the last 25 years of
romanticist British painter J. M. W. Turner's life. Apart from his style
- innovative use of illumination and broad strokes - we also get a
revealing insight into his personal journey.
Spall's depiction of Turner is in a word, earthy. The rotund artist's
vocabulary is frequently punctuated by a string of porcine grunts and
growls, all delivered by this scowling, jowly and not very jolly man.
Unmarried, he lives in a well-appointed home looked after by his
sad-eyed housekeeper Hannah (Atkinson) who he occasionally has sex with.
She craves his affection, but for him, sex is just that. His beloved
father William (Jesson) does the groceries and shares a buddy-like
camaraderie with Turner. Not so with Turner's former mistress Sarah
(Sheen), angry with him for neglecting their kids.
lacks in terms of verbal expressiveness, he more than makes up for via
his canvases. There too, he is unusual. Turner moistens dry parts of
paint on his landscapes with spittle and, wielding his brush like a
scalpel, stabs, scrapes and shapes blobs of paint into hazy sunset hues
and masterful sunrises. Despite its runtime and deliberately slow
(Leigh clearly takes his time here) pace, both these factors are
necessary for a story like this. After all, it harks back to an era when
people rode in horse carriages and cameras (more precisely, the
daguerreotype) were a new thing.
Turner was known for his use
of light and yet, his own life had plenty of melancholic shades. A
depressed soul, however, he was not. He slurs to a young woman at a posh
dinner party one evening in between mouthfuls of custard and port,
"loneliness and solitude are different." Turner finally does find love
and companionship with the widowed landlady, Mrs Booth (Bailey), of a
place he often rented. He lives with her, but does not get married.
Apart from the fantastic characterizations and top-notch
cinematography, the real beauty of Turner's vision was his ability to
find beauty in the seemingly ordinary.