5 out of 10

Release Date: 31st October 2014

Director: Mike Leigh (Another Year Happy Go Lucky / Vera Drake / All Or Nothing / Topsy Turvy / Career Girls / Secrets & Lies / Naked / Life Is Sweet / High Hopes / Mean Time / Nuts In May / Abigail’s Party)

Cast: Timothy Spall, Marion Bailey, Dorothy Atkinson, Paul Jesson, Martin Savage, Ruth Sheen, Joshua McGuire, Karl Johnson, Patrick Godfrey, Karina Fernandez, Mark Stanley, Jamie Thomas King, Richard Bremmer, Leo Bill, Sandy Foster, Stuart McQuarrie, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Katie O’Flynn, Sam Kelly with Peter Wight and Lesley Manville

Featured Extras: James Fleet, Eileen Davies, Elizabeth Berrington, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Oliver Maltman, Lee Ingleby

Devised by Mike Leigh

Trailer: MR TURNER


To be proofread: It’s no secret that I am a huge Mike Leigh fan. It’s also true that his period dramas are never amongst my favourites. My heart always sinks slightly when I learn that his next movie will be fact-based or set in the days of yore. Mr Turner has amazing moments and some startling performances but it never woke up enough stir the heart and mind like his material based in the present day. It’s a huge accomplishment and perhaps Mike Leigh’s most ambitious movie to date but I struggled to engage with the whole beast. Lights turned on for short spells but the movie was so episodic my interest levels wained more than peaked.

Focussing on the painter William Turner‘s  (TIMOTHY SPALL – VANILLA SKY) last few years in the public eye as the nation’s leading painter. Pushing through a new impressionistic style he finds his popularity dimming. His lose of personal verve also has much to do with the passing of his father (PAUL JESSON – CORIOLANUS) with whom he has a wholesome and friendly relationship with. His father helps him exhibit his paintings with great flourish and the film also seems to suffer once this character leaves the picture (so to speak.) The film also explores his relationships with his new wife (MARION BAILEY – MEANTIME), his housekeeper and neglected lover (DOROTHY ATKINSON – CALL THE MIDWIFE) and the angry estranged mother of his children (RUTH SHEEN – RUN FATBOY RUN) each of whom reveal a different face of the maestro. However, there is no grand sweep to the film. It was a movie of short episodes and like my learned friend Joe Pesci II points out in his review below – Mike Leigh may well have flicked through a book on Turner’s life and chose to adapt random events / non-events.

Stand-out scenes are when Turner is strapped to the mast of ship in a storm, or when he witnesses the inspiration to his most famous painting ‘The Fightin Temeraire’. Lesley Manville (ASHES) beguiles with a quieter scene where she shows Turner light refractions with her collection of prisms. Timothy Spall in the titular role delivers the performance of a lifetime. He’s a fine actor who’s often miscast (see The King’s Speech or The Last Samurai) but his Turner is a complex creation and a masterclass in persuasion. It’s a shame that the film wasn’t more interesting or less conventional. Although the film is loose in structure we are subjected to a completely unnecessary and drawn out death-bed scene. Such films as Mr Turner were ten-a-penny in Channel 4’s 1980s-90s hey-day and this would have been considered quite mediocre – think Tom & Viv, The Heart of Me, The Bridge (1992), Howard’s End, American Friends etc. All forgotten but equally pedestrian as Mr Turner which is only getting a lot of attention because the British film industry no longer make films like this anymore. It’s strange considering the popularity of the new Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey but there you have it.

Mr Turner is the most visually stunning Mike Leigh film yet and his beautiful recreations of the scenes which inspired the artist’s paintings are incredible. These are of course bolstered by the inclusion of many replicas of Turner’s finest paintings. It’s a shame that like Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake and Topsy Turvy it turned out to be mostly drab and overlong.

5 out of 10 – An acting tour-de-force from Timothy Spall can’t stop this feeling like an over-inflated euro-pudding-style souffle. If this came out 20 years ago it would have been greeted with a shrug. A film out of time. Paint me another Mr Leigh!

Review by Matt ‘paint’ brUsher aka Joe Pesci II below


  • Timothy Spall: The Love PunchThe RiseLove BiteComes a Bright Day, Ginger and RosaThe King’s Speech, Harry Potter – parts 3 – 8, Wake Wood, Reuniting The Rubins, Heartless,  Alice In Wonderland (2011) (voice), Apaloosa, The Damned Utd, Sweeney Todd, Pierrepoint, Lemony Snickets Series of Unfortunate Events, The Last Samurai, Nicholas Nickleby (2002),  All Or Nothing, Vanilla Sky, Rock Star, Lucky Break, Chicken Run (voice), Loves Labours Lost,  Topsy Turvy, Still Crazy, Wisdom Of Crocodiles, Hamlet (1996), Secrets & Lies, Life Is Sweet, The Sheltering Sky, White Hunter Black Heart, To Kill a Priest, The Missionary, Auf Wierdesen Pet (TV), Quadrophenia
  • Marion Bailey: Vera Drake, All or Nothing, Nasty Neighbours, Shine On Harvey Moon (TV), Mean Time
  • Dorothy Atkinson: Call The Midwife (TV)
  • Paul Jesson: Coriolanus, Rome (TV)
  • Martin Savage: Another Year, Topsy Turvy
  • Ruth Sheen: SuperBob, Welcome To The PunchAnother YearHeartless, Hush Your Mouth, All Or Nothing, Vera Drake, The Young Poisoner’s Handbook, High Hopes
  • Joshua McGuire: Get Santa, Scrotal Recall (TV), About Time
  • Karl Johnson: The SeaGood Vibrations, The Deep Blue Sea (2011), Third Star, Hot Fuzz, Close My Eyes, Edge Of Love, Pure, Wittgenstein, Let Him Have It, Prick Up Your Ears, The Tempest (1979), Jubilee
  • Patrick Godfrey: The Borderlands, The Duchess, The Importance of Being Earnest (2002), The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), Everafter, The Gambler, The Remains Of The Day, Maurice, Clockwise, A Room With A View, Dr Who (TV)
  • Karina Fernandez: Pride (2014), Another Year, Happy Go Lucky
  • Mark Stanley: Kajaki, Game of Thrones (TV)
  • Jamie Thomas King: Tower Block, Storage 24, The Tudors (TV)
  • Richard Bremmer: 13th Warrior, The Girl With Brains In Her Feet
  • Leo Bill:  A Long Way Down, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011), Alice In Wonderland (2010), The Fall, Kinky Boots, 28 Days Later
  • Stuart McQuarrie: Isle of DogsBlood (2013)Hush
  • Sylvestra Le Touzel: Happy Go Lucky, Amazing Grace, Smith & Jones (TV), The Boy From Space (TV)
  • Katie O’Flynn: Happy Go Lucky
  • Sam Kelly: All or Nothing, Porridge (TV)
  • Peter Wight: Kon Tiki, The Look Of Love, My Week With MarilynHardboiled SweetsGhosted, Best Laid Plans (2012)CloneAnother YearCass, Hot Fuzz, Babel, Flood, Pride & Prejudice (2005), Vera Drake, Shiner, Naked, Mean Time
  • Lesley Manville: Maleficent, The Christmas Candle, Ashes, Romeo and Juliet (2013), Spike IslandCloneAnother Year,  All Or Nothing, Vera Drake, Topsy Turvy, Secrets and Lies,High Hopes, Sammy & Rosie Get Laid
  • James Fleet: The Decoy Bride, Coronation Street (TV), The Vicar Of Dibley (TV),  A Cock & Bull Story, The Phantom Of The Opera (2004), Blackball, Charlotte Gray, Kevin & Perry Go Large, Remember Me? (1997),  Sense and Sensibility, The Grotesque, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Electric Moon, Blue Black Permanent
  • Eileen Davies: Sightseers, Mean Time
  • Elizabeth Berrington: Stella (TV), Waterloo Rd (TV), Hard Boiled Sweets, Psychoville (TV), Moving Wallpaper(TV), In Bruges, Nanny McPhee, A Cock and Bull Story, The Office (TV),Quills, The Little Vampire, Mad Cows, Onegin, 8.5 Women,  Secrets & Lies, Naked
  • Roger Ashton-Griffiths: Game of Thrones (TV)
  • Oliver Maltman: Another Year, Happy Go Lucky
  • Lee Ingleby: Best Laid Plans (2012),  Inspector George Gently (TV), Doghouse, Borstal Boy

One thought on “MR TURNER

  1. Mr TURNER – review by Matt ‘Paint’ brUSHER

    There is a theory which states that if you dislike a Mike Leigh film it’s probably because you’ve spotted yourself in it, and don’t like what you see. Which means I’m a leading nineteenth century painter, or a debt-ridden wannabe. Maybe I have become too conditioned by an endless diet of (generally dreadful) zombie gangster films, but MISTER TURNER just seemed (and I know this is no way for a critic – even an unpaid amateur one – to write) a bit dull.

    I suppose it’s a bit silly to complain about Mike Leigh making a film about mundane nineteenth century life (after all, he’s best known for making films about mundane life in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries). But does the film itself have to be mundane? MISTER TURNER joins its eponymous figure at a point where he is well-established as an artist. Although taciturn with the servants, he has (and I think this is a first in the history of the biopic) a good relationship with his father (Paul Jesson stealing scenes) and already has a circle of admirers and detractors. We see Turner at work, schmoozing clients, bantering with artistic rivals (James Fleet as Constable – on screen for maybe forty-five seconds), and dealing with technological advancements which may help or hinder his work (scene-stealing Lesley Manville and a needle; Leo Bill as a scene-stealing photographer). The film depicts Turner’s decline from public favour in parallel with his relationship with a wooed widow (wonderful Marion Bailey) in Margate. This leaves his devoted servant and former love-interest Hannah (a scene-stealing Dorothy Atkinson) all but forgotten.

    Every scene in the film is rather wonderful. And despite all the scene-stealing antics of those already mentioned, plus the likes of Karl Johnson, Peter Wight and Ruth Sheen, the film is dominated by Timothy Spall. This may be his best work in years (and he’s certainly better than in the last two films I saw him in – WAKE WOOD and THE RISE). He has surely never been better, grunting away, hunched, preoccupied and curmudgeonly, but also convivial in the company of his peers, and even charming (despite a foghorn of a singing voice). This is a well-rounded performance, all the better for the lack of grandstandingly eloquent speeches. Turner is shown as a gruff, dedicated man, a worker. Spall excels as someone always observing, yet haunted.

    The problem is that there is no through line: the wonderful scenes don’t add up to being a wonderful film. Or, to put it more bluntly, there’s no plot. Leigh claims that historical accuracy was not a priority. Quite right too. But I find it difficult to watch this film as a film. I can only see it being of interest to people who are already interested in Turner. It’s almost as if Leigh took a biography of Turner, opened it at various random pages, and filmed whatever happened to be on the page. It may have made a more interesting film if they had concentrated on just one or two notable incidents. Instead it comes across as a dramatised documentary with all the talking heads and narration eliminated. If only Leigh had meddled more with history then he might have made a film which actually carries you along, rather than producing a series of tableaux, each of which has you thinking ‘ooh, that’s interesting, I didn’t know that’ (possibly because it’s made up – the obvious example being the sexual relationship between Turner and Hannah – though some scholars think she’s actually the mother of Ruth Sheen’s daughters in the film so who knows?). But if the film isn’t interesting in its own right and we’ve been told not to take any of it as gospel, then I do wonder why the film was made (apart from being a showcase for the magnificent Spall, which may be reason enough).

    Ultimately a film about an artist should surely be about the artist’s relation to art, unless they’ve got some really good other stuff going on as well: Wagner, Van Gogh, Marlowe. Turner (judging from this film) is not in their class in terms of grand passions and adversity. Turner just got on with it, and was widely admired. He wasn’t a terrible human being, nor a particularly eccentric artist. There is no wailing at the moon, no gnashing of teeth in the face of a stupefied public. Leigh banishes all those Romantic clichés about isolated mad geniuses seized impetuously in the white heat of inspiration, battling arrogantly yet nobly against insurmountable odds, and instead gives us an artist who moans about the price of paint, orders canvasses, attends hangings (of pictures, not criminals). This is an artist who works, rather than waits around for the muse to spark. In a sense one gets the feeling that is more of a Mike Leigh autobiography than anything else. The parallels seem to be there: they are both hard-working artists, both seem to make things difficult for themselves (Leigh’s improvisational methods, Turner lashing himself to a ship’s mast to see a storm at sea first-hand), both have had triumphs and failures, and both can be prickly, depending on company. But MISTER TURNER’s big failure is in dealing with painting. Timothy Spall has said how he spent years learning to paint, and we do see Turner at work, using unconventional techniques (spitting on the canvas (in public!) being the most startling). But I didn’t get the feeling that we were looking at the world through Turner’s eyes. And although the film is always beautiful to look at, it doesn’t look much like Turner.

    MISTER TURNER succeeds in showing art as being a job like any other, and it succeeds in showing Turner as a fairly normal person getting on with job and life. And, in Spall, we could hardly hope for someone to portray that better. But in the end I can’t help but wonder whether that’s an endeavour that was worthwhile. I can’t see it winning Turner any converts, nor Leigh for that matter.

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