Timothy Spall. Bio. Written & directed by Mike Leigh.
FILM SYNOPSIS: An exploration of the last quarter century of the great, if eccentric, British painter J.M.W. Turner's life.
PREVIEW REVIEW: A brilliant character study given by Timothy Spall (The Kingís Speech, the Harry Potter films, Topsy Turvy), who looks like every conceptualized Dickensí antagonist known to film, the performance is a sad portrait of a man, despite his artistry, seemingly dead inside. In the film Mr. Turner has escaped the duties as husband to a shrew and two daughters, his brilliance causing him to be blunt in all relationships and devoid of any religious leanings. He uses his maid, a pathetic drone devoted to her job and master, as a sexual object (trust me, thereís no romance in him Ė heís motivated sexually much like a pet in heat). And when he finds a compassionate woman with feelings for him, the same bluntness of sexual release is shown her. He is an arrogant, amoral man, treating woman well only when it suited him.
Most of the characters find beauty and solace in the faulty, even dispassionate, as they desperately hope they wonít wind up alone. Indeed, that may be the central theme of the film Ė we must avoid aloneness. This leaves the viewer with a sad look at the future Ė sickness, infirmity and the cold prospect of burial as the final frontier.
There are moments of brilliance, mainly due to a dynamic performance of the star, and the mastery of director Mike Leigh (Topsy Turvy). Cinematographer Dick Pope must also be praised. His ability to capture the mood and setting of Mr. Turner's world, which is very much like Turner's paintings, themselves, ethereal, washed in a golden hue, is simply stunning.
Whatever lessons the film contains, the production may appeal more to those devoid of religious sensibilities. Those portrayed seem completely devoid of thoughts of the afterlife.
Itís a difficult life for the artist, as we well learned in Lust For Life, where Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn play painters Van Gogh and Gauguin. They tend to be tortured souls, searching, yet never truly finding reason. For if there is a God and Heaven, if Jesus really is the Son of God and did die for our sins, then searching for solace and purpose anywhere else would ultimately be a disappointing detour?
DVD Alternatives: The Agony and the Ecstasy. Charlton Heston gives a dynamic performance as the conflicted genius Michelangelo. The preceding short documentary which showcases this masterís exquisite work is the best part.
Lust for Life. Kirk Douglas gives a brilliant performance as tortured painter Vincent Van Gogh. Anthony Quinn won best supporting Oscar for his portrait of Gauguin. Strikingly beautiful color and touching look at this complex artist.
Moulin Rouge (the1 952 version). Jose Ferrer is electric as the diminutive 19th century Parisian painter Toulouse-Lautrec in his visually compelling Oscar winner. Alas, Lautrec was also a conflicted artist. Donít look for any sound life lessons. But sometimes we can learn from the mistakes of others.