There was a lot of furious rumblings around awards season when this Mike Leigh biopic about painter J.M.W. Turner was passed over for gong nomination. But having watched it, I really can’t see what the anger was about.
I really wanted to like this a lot. On paper it has so much going for it.
Yes, it is beautifully shot – by far the most elegant and cinematically beautiful movie Mike Leigh has made so far. The aping of Turner’s paintings in the colour choices and framing is perhaps an obvious choice to make, but it is one which works very well. It looks stunning. The idea of Mike Leigh including CGI in a movie is perhaps the most surprising thing about it, but yes, there’s a steam powered ship sailing on the water which looks utterly fantastic. It is a painting come to life.
And yes, the performances are pretty much uniformly wonderful – with particular praise due to Timothy Spall in the titular role, Marion Bailey as Mrs Booth and Paul Jesson as Turner’s father.
It’s just that, unfortunately, it’s quite a dull film.
Various scenes occasionally stand out as fascinating – and there is a surprising amount of humour. But there is no real narrative hook. Things amble along, quite long windedly, and then stop. If any character has developed or learnt anything we as the audience are left in the dark – Turner is as seemingly grumpy and belligerent as he passes away as an old man, as he was when we first meet him.
For a biographical film Mike Leigh’s famed improvisation technique allows events to take place around and to the characters out of necessity, which unfortunately also allows the characters to not drive the story; events happening to them does instead.
For a story about someone being famously rude, there is very little confrontation.
And that does, despite the quality of the acting and visuals, mean that the film eventually outstays its welcome. It’s 147 minutes long and quickly feels it.
Previously posted on cinetalk.co.uk