Victoria, reporting that for months we’ve heard praises for the film Mr. Turner…but frankly, I wondered if I’d ever get the chance to see it. The film appeared in some American theatres in mid-December for a brief time and then disappeared.  I guess I wasn’t paying attention then, and I despaired of getting  second chance.

Poster for the film Mr. Turner
But, wonder of wonders, it reappeared at local cinemas;  Kristine and I made a date to see the film on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Ft Myers FL.
To watch the official trailer, click here.
Timothy Spall is brilliant in the title role; he has already won many Best Actor Awards, including at the Cannes Film Festival, and he deserves even more.

Though the quality of this snapshot hardly does it justice, the cinematography was incredible.
Director Mike Leigh apparently was passed over for nominations for BAFTAs and Oscars, 
though he too has won several awards and deserves more.  But Mr. Turner is 
not your average blockbuster popular film, aimed at massive audiences, though I hope it gets widespread distribution anyway.
The film follows  Joseph Mallord William Turner ((1775 – 1851) in later life, when he had already earned a distinguished reputation, particularly for his landscapes and nautical scenes. He is a curmudgeonly character, abrupt and eccentric, unkind to the mother of his children, to those daughters (which he apparently did not acknowledge as his), and was abusive to his housemaid, Nevertheless he was a magnificent artist, and it is great film.
Petworth House, West Sussex
Turner visited almost annually at Petworth House, home of the 3rd Earl of Egremont.  He painted both inside the house and on the grounds.Some scenes of the movies are set at Petworth and you can read about the filming there by clicking here.

Filming at Petworth NT

Petworth is now operated by the National Trust. A magnificent collection of paintings is on view there, as well as the fascinating interiors, even the kitchens, and the grounds too. For more information, click here.  The NT has mounted a special exhibition related to the film, on display until March 11, 2015, at Petworth.
Scenes set at the Royal Academy annual exhibitions were especially interesting, with their portrayals of so many of our favorite artists, including John Constable and Benjamin Haydon, below, played by Martin Savage. Relationships among the artists were often prickly and one can hardly be surprised that the competitive spirit reigned.

More comfortable was the growth of Turner’s relationship with Mrs. Booth, a widow from Margate, Kent, where he want to paint the sea.  Mrs. Booth is sympathetically portrayed by actress Marion Bailey. He bought her a house in Chelsea where they lived together for many years.

Dorothy Atkinson as Hannah Danby, Turner’s housemaid
Atkinson gives an amazing performance as Hannah, who grows ever more pitiable as she endures his moods, his mistreatment, her own growing strangeness and affliction. I was surprised when looking at the cast listing to find that Hannah Danby was the niece of  Sarah Danby, the woman who claimed to have had two daughters with Turner, though they were never married.

Another performance, hardly more than a cameo, interested me because I’ve seen Sylvestra Le Touzel in several films and on the London stage.

Sylvestra Le Touzel as John Ruskin’s mother
Le Touzel as Fanny Price in the 1983 BBC production of Mansfield Park

Mentioning Ruskin brings up two aspects of the film that I didn’t like. John Ruskin (1819-1900) was a great authority on Victorian Art, a painter himself, and, I believe a worthy critic who admired Turner’s work. But in this film version he is about as obnoxious a dandy as possible.  Too see a critique from The Guardian on the subject, click here.

Joshua McGuire as John Ruskin
The second thing I disliked was the cliched representation of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as disliking Turner’s work and denigrating it as the product of failing eyesight. I know they liked the work of Landseer, Leighton, and Winterhalter, but I wonder if the opinions expressed in the film are quite right.  Of course, as  a Victoria myself, I always give her the benefit of the doubt — she was certainly the object of many unflattering statements by those who should have known better!!

 Above and below, Sinead Matthews as Queen Victoria and Tom Wlaschiha as Prince Albert

Among the many prominent artists portrayed, but rarely specifically identified, in addition to those mentioned, are Sir William Beechey, Sir John Soane, Sir Charles Eastlake, and Henry William Pickersgill.  Another was the scientist and mathematician Mary Somerville, one of the first two women members in the Royal Astronomical Society (along with Caroline Herschel). Somerville College was named for her, one of the first women’s colleges at Oxford University.  Next time I see the film, probably on DVD, I will endeavor to identify more of these characters.
As you can tell from the pictures, the costumes and settings are exceedingly good.  Obviously they were well researched. For one a bit familiar with changes in fashion from the 1820’s to the 1850’s, I think I can verify their accuracy. 

In 2005, the BBC conducted a poll to identify Great Britain’s favorite work of art. The winner was The Fighting Temeraire, by Turner. This film shows Turner encountering the old ship, once the pride of His Majesty’s Navy, being towed away to be broken up.    

Turner completed the painting in 1838 and exhibited it at the annual Royal Academy Exhibition in 1839.

The work in progress in the film
Image of the painting from the website of the National Gallery where it hangs permanently.

A brighter version of the painting, from the Turner website.

Personally, I love The Fighting Temeraire, and many other Turners. I have spent quite a bit of time at the Tate Britain in the Clore Gallery where most of his paintings are displayed, and I find them all delicious, whether line-for-line almost photographic in detail or atmospheric and abstract. I think my all time favorite, however, is one I remember from a childhood poetry book. Tintern Abbey.

Watercolour of Tintern Abbey, Turner, 1794

Another of my favorites, because it is so dramatic and does not glorify the battlefield is Waterloo, which hangs in the Tate Britain.  The Tate holds more than 500 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolours, and 30,000 works on paper from the Turner Bequest.  Funds were also left by Turner, who had achieved financial success earlier than most artists, to assist elderly artists.  The Turner Prize was established to honor contemporary artists as well.

The Field at Waterloo, exhibited 1818.Tate Britain

Light and Colour (Goerthe’s Theory) – the Morning after the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis, exhibited 1843

In 2014, the Tate Britain mounted an exhibition Late Turner: Painting Set Free: works  after 1835 the year he turned 60.

From the exhibition description: “During his final period Turner continues to widen his exposure in the marketplace. From pictures of the whaling industry ni the 1840’s to ‘sample studies’ and finished watercolours such as The Blue Rigi Sunrise 1842 (Tate), he constantly sought to demonstrate his appeal to new admirers, led by John Ruskin, who famously described Turner as ‘the greatest of the age.'”

The exhibition closed in London last month. It opens at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, on February 24 and continues until May 24, 2015. It will be shown at the deYoung Museum, San Francisco, June 20-September 20, 2015.

Following our wonderful hours in the theatre, Kristine and I simply had to have some refreshments over which to deconstruct the the film. A perfect day, at least as perfect as one could be on this side of the pond.

3 thoughts on “MR. TURNER”

  1. I loved this film! I have researched Turner for years and think that casting Timothy Spall as the famously eccentric (that's a kind way to put it!) artist was a stroke of genius. As Turner was, a genius, but such an odd duck and often not so nice to his women.

    Now, I loved the depiction of Ruskin as a spoiled brat because he is very, very low on my list of admirable people. There was a serious psychological issue there (just read a piece about a female artist he'd strung along for years whilst lusting — or whatever it was he did — after a series of very young girls); it was ironic that he became executor of Turner's estate, but, then, Turner had his problems with sex, too!

    The actresses portraying the servant and the partner of his old age were wonderful! The servant — who idolized Turner — suffered from an awful skin ailment, well shown in the film. There are a number of interviews with these women on YouTube that I would recommend.

    All in all, I have to say this was a faithful reproduction of the man and his life — though we will disagree on the Ruskin portrayal! Funny, too, that Turner was such a pal of the Egremont earls. They had their sexual issues, too!

    The portrayal of the other artists…wish there could have been more of Turner's interactions with others save the one depicted mostly in the film. Turner was fond of giving them all advice, not much of which was appreciated, but he could also be generous.

    Difficult man, indeed.

    Any fan of the 18th century, especially the Georgian art scene, would love this movie. One of the many things I learned researching the 18th century art world was that a number of the "best" artists of that time came from nothing. No money, no wealth in the family…but, what immense talent. I loved the portrayal of Turner's dad, the barber, who was so supportive of his son!

  2. Is it just me, or is anyone else wondering when "Wellington" the biopic is going to get made? Hello!? 2015 would have been the time to release it.

  3. I have wanted to see this film since I heard it was being made. I have been a fan of Turner's work since I was nine years old and saw an exhibit of his work in London whilst on a school trip. Tintern Abbey is one of my favorites of his work.

    And yes, researching his life as an adult the gentleman had more issues than National Geographic with sex and a host of other things.

    However, spending so much of my life around artists – musicians, sculptors, painters, actors, and of course writers – his behavior does not shock me at all. We creative types go from slightly eccentric to CRAZY with a capital C !!

    Can't wait to get this one on DVD!

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