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Mr. Turner


Stars: Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson, Ruth Sheen, Karl Johnson, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage, Clive Francis, Edward de Souza, James Fleet, Leo Bill, Fenella Woolgar, Lee Ingleby, Ruby Bentall, Joshua McGuire

Director: Mike Leigh

Given the length of his film and its intriguing subject, there's little doubt that the normally redoubtable Mike Leigh should done rather better with this slightly underwhelming portrait of the last 25 years of the curmudgeonly artist JMW Turner, a master of light and shade whose paintings could be mistaken for no others, and a contemporary of Constable (Fleet), who is briefly shown here.

With a get-up straight from a Dickens novel - the whole movie has a Dickensian feel - Spall plays Turner as a grumpy, intolerant eccentric who converses mainly in a series of doglike growls and porcine grunts. But it's impossible to work out from this underpowered script what he really thinks and what his opinions are. Throughout the film he remains a colourful cut-out, a crude hedonist who occasionally has sex with his porphyric housekeeper (Atkinson) and finds a sort of contentment with a seaside landlady (Bailey) after her husband (Johnson) has died.

There are brief turns from any number of other, familiar players, but no one really shines, apart from cinematographer Dick Pope, who conjures up some brilliantly painterly vistas that at least help us to envision some of the things that could have inspired the artist to some of his most famous work.

Leigh's direction is highly professional, as always, but his script is too peremptory, creating caricatures rather than characters and leaving us longing to get closer to its central subject than the mid-distance we're allowed.

David Quinlan

UK 2014. UK Distributor: Entertainment One. Colour by Movietech.
150 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 27 Oct 2014