You may have heard recent reports that the art market’s gone a little crazy. Some art aficionado, who for good reason chose to remain anonymous, bought a Picasso for $179 million. “Art for art’s sake,” and even “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” offer new perspectives when you start adding zeros.
So with so much attention focused on art this week, it seems fitting that the release of “Mr. Turner” offers so much to so many. Released first at a relatively small number of theaters, “Mr. Turner” has now found its way to its own multi-million dollar revenue stream and hit widespread distribution through your favorite online offerings.
This beautifully crafted film draws you in to the life of J.M.W. Turner, whose heyday in the art world coincided with a cultural turn in Britain toward natural landscapes. Turner, who was born in London in 1792, found success and the respect of the Royal Academy when he was an adolescent. At a time when Britain ruled the world, Turner found his place and admiration among the critics; he never suffered the indignities of hard poverty.
The film capitalizes on Turner’s eccentric nature, his relationships and the talent he had for capturing the essence of light and color. “Mr. Turner” successfully invests the historical facts of Turner’s life, fleshing them out with rich details, and most probably drawn with some level of artistic license.
Granted, such a close, personal depiction can lead us to make wildly inaccurate assumptions based on the filmmaker’s version, but all biography in general has the capacity to do that. Hang your skepticism at the door and enjoy the film’s verisimilitude. It is what it is, and that’s all right.
I’m not sure what Turner experts have to say, but in the extraordinarily capable hands of renowned director Mike Leigh, this version of Turner pays homage to a man whose life was as rich and full of color as his luminescent art. Leigh’s vision can be dark, but in “Mr. Turner,” he’s downright celebratory. To Leigh’s credit, he veers away from sentimentality. Turner has a few warts, and Leigh makes sure we see them all.
British actor Timothy Spall brings to the lead role a docile playfulness, but edged with acerbic wit and cutting genius. Turner can be cantankerous one minute and charming the next. Spall’s talent is big enough to depict the complexities, and there are many, while giving glimpses of pure insight into what made Turner the man he was.
On the screen, every detail of setting and circumstance, every nuance of character big and small, contribute to the film’s power to enlarge the time, the man, and his work.
Through the years, the British art world has demonstrated its admiration for all things Turner. The world’s largest collection of Turner’s work is housed in its own wing of the Tate Gallery in London. Seeing “Mr. Turner” will enhance the way we look at Turner’s work. Transformative experience brought to you way less than a Picasso.
Marilyn Robitaille has been writing film reviews for the Empire-Tribune since 1999.
Rated R for some sexual content.