Joseph Mallord William Turner (played by Timothy Spall) is an accomplished landscape artist. His style is much renowned and his paintings are prized, bringing high prices amongst art lovers in eighteenth century England. He spends his days travelling around England and sketching, then brings his ideas back to his Chelsea home where he sets himself up in his studio to paint. His home is managed by his loyal housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson (by Hannah Danby) and his father, William Turner Senior (by Paul Jesson), sees to his painting supplies, ready for his return to start work. As a man, J.M.W. Turner presents as awkward and physically repugnant, with a social ineptitude that belies his sensitivity towards others. Although his marriage has failed, he has a strong need for companionship and intimacy, but many of his liaisons are less than fulfilling. His father’s death hits him hard and he struggles to make sense of his world for a time, but he settles into a comfortable routine which includes regular visits to a favourite painting spot at the seaside. Through periods of his life, his work is seen as controversial by high society and royalty, so he isn’t always welcomed into their social circles. But other times he is enmeshed in the society season, or enjoys hunting in the grounds of one stately home or another. He enjoys the lifestyle of the upper class as often as he can participate. At other times, he languishes at his modest home with his father and housekeeper. Nonetheless, he produces a significant catalogue of work, earning him the reputation of one of the greatest masters of British watercolour landscape painting.
This is a marvellous movie. Timothy Spall is to be applauded for his portrayal of Joseph Mallord William Turner – his physicality alone is a masterpiece and his presentation of this eccentric genius is sublime. His relationships are so interesting, particularly the way he’s so gruff and terse with people, mumbling his words and using formal phrases, but underneath all that is a palpable vulnerability. As his housekeeper Dorothy Atkinson, Hannah Danby is magnificent. She too has excelled in the physicality of her role as such a pathetic, unattractive soul, obviously in love with Mr Turner, who can do nothing to further this, so resolutely keeps his house for him and hopes for, but expects no more from him. The audience can’t help but feel deep compassion for her. Paul Jesson is strong as William Turner Senior and Marion Bailey is a very homely and caring Sophia Booth. The movie earned multiple nominations for excellence globally and Timothy Spall richly deserves the Best Actor accolades he received from the Cannes Film Festival, European Film Awards and the Capri Awards in 2014. Very well done.
Made in 2014. Directed by Mike Leigh