Mr. Turner

This film got unanimously good reviews from the critics, and the comments on IMDb were nearly always either very positive or very negative. In other words people either loved or hated it, and that’s the sort of film I usually like the most. I was therefore very curious to see it, but wondered afterwards what all the fuss had been about.

(details below)

I found it difficult to understand why some people had hated it so much, but to call it a masterpiece, as many others were doing, would also be an exaggeration. It’s certainly ‘rougher’, more realistic and therefore more interesting than the average biographical costume drama, and anyone expecting a ‘nice’ film with a ‘romantic’ storyline and some beautiful scenery would probably be disappointed. Not that there isn’t beautiful scenery to be admired here. It’s only to be expected of a film about a landscape painter that there will be some amazing visuals to give some idea of the artist’s inspiration, and the cinematography more than lives up to that expectation. But in spite of the brilliantly lit scenes of mountain lakes, storm clouds and sunsets, this is anything but a pretty film. Some of the characters are spectacularly ugly, not least Mr. Turner himself, and the film is filled with disease, old age and death. Having seen Turner’s father grow old, get sick and die, we later see the same thing happen to Turner; we also see his maid’s skin disease gradually worsen as the film progresses. The message seems to be that human beings are small, ugly and insignificant creatures compared to the beauty of the natural world, which was apparently exactly how Turner saw things.

Seemingly J. M. W. Turner was an extreme, eccentric and not very likeable character, and like so many great artists he was totally obsessed with his art. He cared little for his own health and happiness and even less for that of the people around him, and he couldn’t be bothered with politeness, social niceties and family responsibilities. Not an easy character to play, but the best thing about this film, as far as I’m concerned, is the brilliant performance by Timothy Spall. In spite of knowing intellectually that this was just an actor playing a role, I found it difficult to imagine that he wasn’t just being himself, or that he could possibly behave in any other way. Much of his dialogue consists of him grunting and mumbling to himself in a half-cockney slang-filled dialect which frequently made me grateful for the French subtitles (I’ve never heard that many grunts in one film!), but it all worked perfectly.

This film seems to have been well researched, and gave a very believable and I think a realistic impression of early 19th. century England. The rest of the acting was good, the score was unobtrusive but effective, and the film was generally very well made. Unsurprisingly considering its subject matter, this is very much a film for artists, art lovers and the visually inclined. For me it was a good film and well worth the trip to the cinema, but not a film which will change my life.



title Mr. Turner
director Mike Leigh
released 2014
language English
subtitles français
seen 20/01/2015, at the cinema
further information IMDb



  1. How many pictures are live changing, or can be indeed?
    I too loved the picture; great acting, beautiful scenes. The central theme in my opinion is: great artists do everything for their passion and pay (sometimes) a huge price because of it. This theme is of course not very original, but it is the reality.


    1. Congratulations Ger, that was the very first comment on this blog! (glad it was a polite one 🙂 ).
      You’re quite right, ‘life-changing’ films are few and far between. I was perhaps just led to expect something more exciting by the extreme positive and negative reactions this film received.
      Great artists do indeed often pay a huge price for their art, and sometimes, as in this case, so do the people around them. I thought that aspect came across very well in the film.


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