turner 90Art house style with mainstream appeal. This biopic of the grumpy and complex artist is even better after seeing the bonus material.

Distributor: Entertainment One
Time: 144 mins / 30 mins bonus

Mike Leigh’s biopic of J. M. W. Turner had the middle classes flocking to the cinema earlier in the year, drawn as much by Timothy Spall’s idiosyncratic interpretation of the artist as by the widescreen reconstructions of some of his works.

Spall, who learned to paint for making the movie, portrayed a grumpy, harrumphing curmudgeon, who was probably nothing like anyone’s expectation.

Finding little in Turner’s earlier life to excite him, Leigh decided to cover his last 26 years. He squeezes in some almost self-consciously artistic shots, such as Turner in a boat shrouded in dappled, misty sunlight, and a clever cut from an actual work to some cliff scree, where the texture of the scree looks like a painting until it pans out, with Turner below.  He likes to catch Turner in silhouette among widescreen landscapes and has impressively recreated moments that inspired the artist to paint, such as the sunset behind the Fighting Temeraire.

Leigh made the film almost as impressionistic as Turner’s own work. The bumbling, ragged housekeeper appears like a cross between Father Ted’s Mrs. Doyle and a Michael Palin Monty Python woman, while many of the scenes are glimpses of his life that eschew much of the storyteller’s toolkit.

It leaves the impression of being a surreal account of the artist’s life.

Mr. Turner boat Bonus Features: But watch the half-hour making-of documentary “Many Colours of Mr. Turner”, which is the only special feature on the DVD, and you may want to see it all over again to catch the realism.

The film was intensely researched for years and the artist really was as secretive, curmudgeonly and complex as he is shown.

His mother was insane, which made his relationship with his father quite intense – and also may have explained his shoddy treatment of his own wife and children (already strangers to him by the time the film covers).

His housekeeper really was a bizarre character, disfigured and often in rags; and some locations are genuine, such as Petworth House, which had walls covered in his works.

The production team went to extraordinary lengths to replicate Varnishing Day at the Royal Academy, reproducing the works that were on show alongside Turner’s at the time.

This is like an arthouse film with mainstream appeal and seeing it after the bonus feature only adds to its power.

Derek Walker

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