Mike Leigh | 150 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK, France & Germany / English | 12 / R
There are two stars in Mike Leigh’s biopic of famed British artist J.M.W. Turner: Timothy Spall, grunting his way through the title role with a deceptively layered realisation of an apparently simple but deeply complex man; and Dick Pope’s cinematography, which makes almost every frame look like a rich landscape painting, so that you feel you can almost see the brushstrokes.
That’s to do a disservice to the supporting cast, however; in particular Dorothy Atkinson as Turner’s near-silent psoriasis-afflicted maid-cum-fuckbuddy, and Marion Bailey as the twice-widowed landlady he eventually shacks up with. Both deliver performances that reveal far more inner life than their characters say out loud, and are every bit the equal of the awards-robbed Spall.
Leigh unfolds the story in long takes, evoking a previous era of filmmaking — between those, the era it’s set in, and the painterly photography, I was reminded of Barry Lyndon more than once. The film occasionally plays out as a series of vignettes, with scenes that sometimes lack clear relevance (recognisable-off-the-telly actors turn up silently for what we’d call cameos if they were more famous). It creates a measured pace that is surely not to every taste, especially over the long running time, though personally I only found it sluggish towards the very end.
Still, the cumulative effect is to — fittingly — paint a portrait of an interesting man.