Turning to Turner

You may recall a few months ago I found the site where Turner painted his famous Fighting Temeraire.
Turner PlaqueI have always admired Turner’s paintings, and often wondered what he was like as a person as I amble past his former home on St John’s Street, just round the corner from my home. I had him down as a tall angular figure, probably dressed in green velvet, obsessive about colours and light, and who was prone to periods of mania and melancholy.

So I was naturally keen to see Mike Leigh’s new biography of the eccentric painter current topping the UK’s box offices. In an interview on the Kermode and Mayo radio show (if you dont subscribe, you have no idea what you are missing…) Leigh described how he had tried to recreate the life and person of the painter from diaries, letters, and had paid close attention to his recorded mannerisms and eccentricities. Leigh has described Turner as “a great artist: a radical, revolutionary painter,” explaining, “I felt there was scope for a film examining the tension between this very mortal, flawed individual, and the epic work, the spiritual way he had of distilling the world.”

Timothy Spall is unsurprisingly brilliant in the titular role. He appears is thoroughly convincing as a character, and portrays his mannerisms, cadence, and gruff exterior magnificently. My only criticism might be that he sometimes edges close to an almost Churchillian impression of Turner, and waddles more like the penguin from Batman than might be strictly necessary.

The film naturally features some stunning locations including Petworth House, Welsh Hills, Dutch landscapes and Kingsand stands in as a more picturesque Margate. The cast supports Spall well, but he is rarely off screen, and it has received rave reviews… even an Oscar tip for Best Actor and Director. One is left with a feeling of unease owing to his relationship, and I for one could not make up my mind if I liked Leigh’s Turner, or thought him abhorrent. I am not sure it should be watched as a biographical depiction of the great artist, more an opportunity to spend time in his world. There is little actual plot, but the narrative wanders along pleasantly, and you do get a good impression of the world in which he lived and worked. And if that makes us appreciate and understand his works all the more, it can be no bad thing.

Spall as Turner

And “Hello to Jason Isaacs.”

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Filed under Oxford: The Perspiring Dream, Timology

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