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Mr. Turner ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Mr. Turner

Mr. Turner ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

J.M.W. Turner was an English landscape painter who lived from 1775 to 1851. The new movie, Mr. Turner, is a stately (slow-moving) look at his life and times. Timothy Spall plays Turner and the movie was directed by celebrated director Mike Leigh.

While Turner (known to his friends as “William”) was a profoundly gifted painter whose work influenced landscape painting for generations, the movie focuses more on his eccentric private life than on his work. He lives with his elderly father and calls him “daddy” until the older gentleman’s death. He never marries but fathers two daughters with a shrewish woman who comes around periodically to berate him and his work and to tell him how worthless he is. He cares little for the woman or the two daughters but must, seemingly, tolerate them. (When one of the daughters dies as a young woman, he barely bats an eyelash.) He has an unattractive housekeeper, one Hannah Danby (she reminds me of the character actress Margaret Hamilton, who played the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz), with whom he enjoys furtive sexual congress from time to time. He travels a lot, seeking inspiration for his work, and it is on one of these trips that he meets Mrs. Booth, a widow with a soothing nature. The two are drawn to each other, not for the sake of physical appearance (“When I look in the mirror, I see a gargoyle,” he says.), but for what each sees in the other. He has a dalliance with Mrs. Booth that lasts eighteen years or so, in effect leading a double life apart from his life in London. He is at the home of Mrs. Booth when he dies at the age of 76 of a heart ailment. Hannah Danby is, wordlessly, left with a broken heart.

Mr. Turner is an English art film, rather than a mainstream movie, so its audience is limited. Turner is very jowly (or at least that’s the way he is portrayed here), so I had a little trouble understanding what he was saying, especially in the early going. The other characters are, mostly, more intelligible. Sometimes we are left to catch the gist of what they are saying, rather than the words themselves. All in all, though, Mr. Turner is a fascinating glimpse, for the serious moviegoer, at the life of a nineteenth century genius.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

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