Friday, October 17, 2014

"Mr. Turner" at the HIFF

We attended Hamptons International Film Festival showing of the new film Mr Turner, written and directed by Mike Leigh.  The film is a biopic of the renown and beloved English painter Joseph Mallord William Turner.  Timothy Spall won the Best Actor award at the 2014 Cannes Film festival for his portrayal of Turner in all of his creative, eccentric, abrasive, glory. Spall studied art for two years in preparation for the role.

Timothy Spall as Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)

Petworth House scene from Mr. Turner

Mike Leigh recreates Turner's world with amazing attention to detail. The film beautifully captures a moment depicted in Turner's watercolor, The Artist and his Admirers. The Old Library at Petworth House, the Egremont ancestral home, was used by Turner as a studio. The 3rd Earl of Egremont was a patron and a friend, "Egremont's unconventional household of rival mistresses, swarms of children and visiting artists" became a "grand extended family" (Tate bio here).  

The Artist and His Admirers 1827 by JMW Turner
Watercolour and Bodycolour on paper 
Suport 138 x 128 mm
image via the Tate here

“You can research and read for a million years and a zillion books, but it doesn’t make it happen in front of a camera. Everyone knows Turner went to the Royal Academy in 1832 on varnishing day (a sociable day just before the opening of a show to the public, which was a sort of unofficial private view, when artists gave their work a final lick and a promise, a coat of extra varnish at the very least) and put this red blob on a grey painting next to Constable’s, then turned it into a buoy and Constable said, ‘He has fired a gun’ and walked out. And that is fine, you can read that, but you’ve still got to make it happen and explore it on screen.” And Leigh does explore it as Turner shockingly adds his scarlet daub to the seascape Helvoetsluys as if he were vandalizing his own work – until, with targeted panache, he turns the blob into a recognizable buoy. We see James Fleet’s dismayed Constable fearing his own wings have been permanently clipped. – from an interview with Mike Leigh here in The Guardian.
Helvoetsluys - the City of Utricht, 64, Going to Sea 
by JMW Turner exhibited 1832
oil on canvas, support 914 x 122 mm
image via the Tate here
Turner (Timothy Spall) and Constable (James Fleet)

 We are able to see the world through Turner's eyes via the amazing cinematography of Dick Pope. According to an interview with Pope on Indiewire here: "I studied Turner's color palette quite a lot at the Tate Britain. Which is a fantastic resource for everything Turner - even the paints he used. We took that, and in a way the film is colored very much in the palette of what Turner was using at the time.We used the paints that he was buying in the color shop as our own palette."
Turner's The Fighting Temeraire with inset of how the scene was portrayed in the film (image from here).

Sony Classics release for Mr Turner in the U.S. is December 19th,  trailer link here.
Beautiful film. I will be seeing it again.


  1. Thank you for the review..I am certain i would like this also..
    I wonder what they mean by Bodycolour ..must Google.
    I love The Artist and His Admirers..

    1. I had never heard "bodycolour" before either - I believe it is another term for gouache - watercolor paints in tubes. I love that painting too. It was amazing to see it recreated on film

  2. Thanks for the review! I can't wait to see this one!

    1. Lisa, I think you would love it. The cinematography is amazing.

  3. I saw a preview for this film the other night and I can't wait to see it! Love all the information you provided. And why didn't I go to the Tate Britain when I was in London! Oh well, next time...

    1. Sunday, You did so much on your trip! You do need to save something for the next visit!


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