You know you're totally enjoying a film when you're feeling yourself smiling through the entire thing.
It's the very same sensation I get while viewing JMW Turner's work ... a slow, steady smile. I would say it's a grin, but a smile is more fun and not as sly as a grin.
That smile washed over my face during the very first frame of this film. I knew it was going to be great. What makes this an art film isn't only the fact that it's partly the story of English Romanticist landscape painter JMW Turner, but mainly this ...
Every ... and I mean every single frame of this film is a painting. I kid you not. In fact, as you watch this film at home, I urge you to keep the remote control in hand and press pause at various times throughout the film and you'll see exactly what I mean. I did this myself and enjoyed doing it.
Watching Mr. Turner is as splendid as looking at Turner's work. Director Mike Leigh does a masterfully artistic job of creating lovely compositions on film that actually rival Turner's paintings on canvas. The staging, blocking and movement are such a pleasure to behold.
As I watched, I was delighted by the light. Light is really the star of this film as it is in Turner's paintings. Light, shadow, glow, pin lights, floodlights, streaming light, exploding light, dancing light, back lighting, stage lighting, darkness ... it's all beautifully there. Everything is awash in ... I dare say ... enlightenment on the screen. Painting with light. Painting by light.
Leigh also does a great job of capturing the cultural time and environment of Turner. Everything you see on screen can also be beautifully discovered in Turner's paintings.
The film is deliberately slow ... or perhaps slowly deliberate. At any rate, the pacing is not unlike time spent in front of Turner's paintings; you stop, look and listen and can almost hear yourself breathing as you bask in the grandiosity. It's a lovely, meandering thing on screen.
Now ... onto actor Timothy Spall. He is a great actor who disappears in this role. He KILLS it. What I love about the portrayal is the fact that Turner isn't some effeminate aesthete who someone who knows nothing about art might expect. He's a big, scruffy, unrefined, occasionally disgusting and ill-mannered guy who just so happens to be an artistic genius.
As usual, I will reveal nothing about the plot. I'll just say that it's as light and humorous as it is dark and dramatic. It's so much fun to watch characters in the film talk about art back then the same way people today talk about shows they watched on TV last night. Times have certainly changed.
I chuckled during one scene when a woman asks Turner whether he was still making those "nice little pictures." I also love the scene where Turner turns down an offer from a wealthy collector who wants to buy all of Turner's paintings ... and make him rich.
I dare say there are very few artists today who would respond as Turner did. Yes, times have changed indeed.