ANN – Timothy Spall paints a masterpiece in ‘Mr. Turner’

Timothy Spall paints a masterpiece in ‘Mr Turner’Timothy Spall grunts, groans, spits and sputters his way through andldquoMr Turner,andrdquo a portrait of the 19th-century British artist JMW Turner that is as suffused with watery light, ethereal feeling and striving for the sublime as one of its subjectandrsquos paintings.Structured by Mike Leigh as a series of vignettes, andldquoMr Turnerandrdquo isnandrsquot comprehensive, and yet it feels all of a piece (the film roughly covers 1825 to 1851, the year Turner died).

Refracted through Spallandrsquos beetle-browed, tightly coiled characterization, most of the formative events in Turnerandrsquos life are revisited by way of fleeting memories or gruff, dismissive asides. We learn, in no particular order, that his father was a barber and his mother wound up in an asylum he took up with a mistress and fathered two children, then lived with a woman in a seaside village in Kent, ending his days with her in Chelsea one of the most famous members of the Royal Academy of Arts, he was nonetheless reviled by Queen Victoria as his style of painting inched closer to abstraction and he was once offered the princely sum of 100,000 pounds for the entirety of his collection but turned the offer down, preferring to bequeath his work to the British nation — a wish fulfilled by the eventual housing of 20,000 of his paintings and other works at Tate Britain in London.

Some of these episodes are reenacted in andldquoMr Turner,andrdquo some only glanced at. But by the end of the film, viewers will feel not only that they have seen the world much as Turner may have seen it, but also lived in it with him, in all his contradictory isolation and fellowship, generosity and peevishness, high-minded reflection and grubbier pursuits.

Most fascinatingly, it presents Turner as a man taken with and profoundly changed by the technological aances of his era, when the wooden ships he became famous for painting gave way to the steam and steel of the industrial age.That seems very far away when andldquoMr Turnerandrdquo opens with a bucolic scene on the Belgian coast, where a solitary Turner — scowling and staring, long and hard — sketches while bonneted Flemish countrywomen walk by.

Back in London, heandrsquos greeted by his housekeeper, Hannah (Dorothy Atkinson), and his ruddily cheerful father, William (Paul Jesson), both of whom are devoted to managing the Turner atelier while the great man wrestles with his canvases unseen. (But not unseeing: Turner has installed a peep-hole so he can watch prospective customers as they browse his work in a room reserved as a gallery.

) A shrewd showman, Turner pandegravere first leads visitors to a candlelit anteroom, to enhance the drama and visual effect when the doors open upon shimmering, pellucid seascapes that invariably draw gasps of wonderAs a work of art in its own right, andldquoMr Turnerandrdquo inspires its own astonishments: Leighandrsquos longtime cinematographer, Dick Pope, has outdone himself on a film whose framing, composition and careful lighting — often through a scrim of dust or sea spray — evoke not just Turnerandrsquos paintings, but also a time when achieving andldquothe correct effectandrdquo was the point of everything from architecture to gardening. Although Turnerandrsquos work exemplified those elevated ideals, the man himself isnandrsquot given to flowery philosophical speeches in andldquoMr Turnerandrdquo Those are reserved for the young critic John Ruskin (Joshua McGuire), here depicted as a fatuous, if earnest, defender of art as civilizing force, moral vector and spiritual balmandldquoMr Turnerandrdquo faithfully aances these values, but its aesthetic rewards never outstrip the realism for which Leigh (andldquoSecrets and Lies,andrdquo andldquoAnother Yearandrdquo) is most famous: Turnerandrsquos transcendent enterprise is continually juxtaposed with earthier concerns, from the social ills of poverty and the lingering shame of the slave trade to the painful skin condition suffered by Hannah that worsens as time goes on.

Equally unsavory are Turnerandrsquos relations with women, from his former paramour Sarah Danby (Ruth Sheen), whose two daughters he refuses to claim as his own, to Hannah herself (sheandrsquos expected to make herself available to him for furtive assignations as is his whim). Far warmer is his relationship with a landlady, Mrs.

Booth (Marion Bailey), a cheerful boon companion with whom he lives a secret, but altogether homey, parallel life.One of the most storied episodes of Turnerandrsquos life — when he had himself lashed to the mast of a ship in a snowstorm — is re-created with ambitious bravura in andldquoMr Turner,andrdquo as is an amusing sequence involving his rivalry with fellow Academy member John Constable.

Through it all, Spall is equally enigmatic and transfixing: With his guttural croaks and barks, his Turner is often difficult to understand, but, thanks to Spallandrsquos amazing physical performance and Leighandrsquos sensitive, information-laden direction, heandrsquos never incomprehensible. Despite his own failings and faults, Leigh and Spallandrsquos Turner is a man consumed by the search for truth and beauty, even in the midst of the less than pretty truths of his times.

Four stars out of four andcopy The Washington Post 201.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman