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Film Review: Mr. Turner (2014)

Mr. Turner is an astounding biographical film depicting the final twenty-five years of acclaimed British Romantic painter Joseph Mallord William Turner. Brought to life by the incredibly underrated thespian Timothy Spall, the somewhat brutish man and artistic genius suffers through the death of his beloved father, travels to the seaside for inspiration, bears witness to the industrialization of his country, falls in love with his landlady, and exhibits his polarizing work at the Royal Academy of Arts, all while maintaining his prolific career in painting and drawing.

Spall excels in displaying the contradiction of Turner. His uneven posture, great craggy face, unhealthy disposition, and laboured grunts grow more pronounced over time, yet they mask a man capable of poetic speech, friendly joviality, sublime artistic skill, remarkable perception, and even moments of nobility. His stony visage is not particularly pleasant to look at but it is fascinating to watch emotions eke out of the lines of his face or to catch the rumbling, piggish grunts and garbled words coming from his misshapen mouth. Of course, Turner had some flaws (namely the two grown daughters he refused to admit fathering) but they are all parts of a wholly real human being and historical figure.

Cinematographer Dick Pope captures some wonderful, Turner-esque sunsets imbued with richly coloured light and marked by various clouds formations as well as majestic vistas of rocky valleys and grassy landscapes. These images inform the viewer of the kind of world Turner wished to capture just as the ugly presence of railways and steamships began to make themselves felt. The film also includes many of Turner’s contemporaries: scientist Mary Somerville, critic John Ruskin, rival painter John Constable, and the forever-unfortunate Benjamin Haydon. Even Queen Victoria and Prince Albert make an appearance. Mr. Turner triumphs in showing the history of a man and of an era.

Rating: 5 out of 5 red buoys

​Plus, the Art Gallery of Ontario is about to open a major exhibition of Turner's works from the Tate Britain this weekend! Stay tuned for an exhibition review!

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