Mike Leigh is one of the most ferociously daring directors when it comes to excavating the human spirit. Arguably one of Britain’s best filmmakers (I say arguably, we all know he is), Leigh has depicted the soul of ordinary people in such a phenomenal way. His work is completely evocative, able to apply a level of astuteness that absorbs you into his stories. Another Year, Secrets & Lies and Naked are just stunning and excruciating (a must) looks at humanity in all its bleakness and splendour. Notably, he has taken to bring real life dramas onto the screen, with the most acclaimed being Vera Drake. Now, he has set critics alight by painting an art biopic on the famous artist Turner.
There is no denying that, here, Spall is the anchor that grounds the film in eloquent realism with an unnerving portrayal that is ferociously done. In his own words, Spall wanted to convey the clash of Turner, both the gruff and the grand, the bleak and the beautiful. And this conflicted nature of Turner is completely and astutely done by Spall. He is enthralling as Turner, a man capturing a war raging beneath the beauty of nature as well as his struggle with the world around him, assimilating to aristocracy and battling his own past. There is no wonder here why Timothy Spall won Best Actor at Cannes, he is at his career best. Surrounding him are similarly strong actors, most particularly the actresses. Dorothy Atkinson hobbles along as the long-suffering Hannah, and her juxtaposition against Turner's standing in society along with her compulsion to love him until death is marvelously depicted. On the other relationship, Marian Bailey as Mrs Booth - a woman who has seen many deaths in her husbands - is gentle in her performance.
Unlike most biopics, this focuses on the man in the moment, rather than how his past influences his present (there is only a small bit about his mother). It is the depth of his character that is explored and how that shapes with time, women and prestigious artist clubs. The timing is a little overlong, especially if intense and slow-burning films about art are not your bag, and sometimes that drag is detrimental to the overall product. That being said, there isn’t a film like this at the moment. There isn't a performance like this - Spall is a complete powerhouse. A striking painting, a tableau of a man and an excavation of a soul.
Mr Turner is out this Friday