Prominent British filmmaker Mike Leigh, the owner of seven Oscar nominations, presented his latest project in Cannes last year. It is a biographical film adaptation of a controversial British painter. Joseph Mallord William Turner, thanks to impressively painted landscapes (predominantly motifs from the sea such as sailing ships and harbors, with painted rocks in the background), has established himself as one of the leading representatives of Romanticism from the early nineteenth century.
The concept of the story focuses on the last 25 years of his life, at a time when the painter was left without a father with whom he was strongly connected. We follow his frequent travels in constant search for inspiration, because this unbridled artistic spirit has always strived for something new, different, more progressive. He was one of those painters who did not succumb to the charms of self-satisfaction, convinced that he was doing a sublime thing and thus leaving an indelible mark behind.
Presented as an individual, a guy who felt almost nothing towards his ex-wife and two daughters, totally dedicated to the brush and the canvas. In a modest love life, there was room for two women who occasionally aroused emotions and ignited passion in old Turner. The first is his maid Hana (secretly in love with him), and the second is the owner of the boarding house and widow, Sofia But, with whom he unexpectedly met when he was already at the zenith of his artistic career, but also close to leaving the life stage.
Although he had an enviable reputation in high circles, was a favorite of the aristocracy and newly composed rich people, enjoyed socializing with brothel girls, Mr. Turner also experienced the other side of the coin. He was belittled, becoming a hated character, a mockery of the hypocritical public. The reason for that was the uncompromising style of painting that led him to Impressionism, a new direction that would later become generally accepted. In a couple of scenes, we are discreetly suggested how Turner laid the foundations of abstract art, which will come to life more seriously only in the 20th century. It is easy to conclude that he was a man ahead of his time, a visionary who saw much further than his contemporaries, colleagues from the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts.
Timothy Spall (Timothy Spall) brilliantly performed the title role. Facial expression combined with animalistically interpreted sounds (grunting, muttering, grumbling) make him a difficult-to-understand eccentric. In a subtle way, the director declares him as a man of changeable mood. After all, the impressive scene with the loan illustrates this very well. The rest of the team also provides decent performance, because here the acting is reduced to a stylistically refined narrative.
Intelligent, thoughtful dialogues, imbued with the inevitable British cynicism and sharp remarks, give the story the necessary social significance. The culture of behavior, nice manners, casual humor, were introduced only as a spice that gives good taste and contributes to making the story easier to reach the mind and soul of the average viewer.
From a technical point of view, it is impossible not to notice the extraordinarily painted exteriors and skillfully set scenography, which revived the spirit of the golden age of the once largest empire in the world. This is supported by imaginatively designed costumes, appropriate to the time period in which Mr. Turner lived and worked. In the manner of a respectable British production (although this is actually a British-French-German co-production), the carefully composed music is recognizable, which, along with the impressive photography, certainly gives the film a special charm. The artistically determined Mike Leigh remains consistent with the well-known film manuscript, which is enough to involve us in this biographical story, despite the fact that it is a bit stretched (according to the old custom in his films) and has a characteristically slow rhythm.
Since I am a fan of his works, I must admit that I was looking forward to this drama. After the check-out rush, it remains for me to state that Leigh has maintained a standard high level in the proportions of European cinema, although this is certainly not one of his best films. But, in any case, it deserves the attention of passionate fans of the genre.