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Mr Turner – Mike Leigh Over-rated, over-praised






Mr Turner – Mike Leigh

Probably the most over-praised, over-rated film of the year. Despite a languidly and tediously long-drawn out 150 minutes, Mike Leigh manages virtually no insights, no illumination of Turner the artist or his Art. A clunking, almost unplayably self-conscious ‘literary’ script serves a misconceived effort to ‘recreate’ with obsessional ‘authenticity’ the language and mores of the period. As a result poor Mr Spall (excellent actor though he is) is trapped into the conceit of ‘inhabiting’ (ie inventing) a Turner who becomes a grunting grotesque with nothing interesting, or convincing to say about himself or, unforgivably, his art.

William Goldman once observed that one should never try to be faithful to a book of which one makes a film: but that one must always be faithful to the spirit of the book. The same is true of the past: we know the facts of the 19th century setting of this film but knows what it was really like tolive it. Leigh’s film is inhabited by exaggerated Dickensian caricatures.

The past is infinitely more alien than another country. Mike Leigh seems to have settled for an obsessional, false, ‘verisimilitude’ at the expense of an artistic vision of the spirit of the man, his painting and his times. Turner’s art,  his iconic and iconoclastic innovative paintings are reduced in Leigh’s film to pretty window-dressing. We learn nothing about the passion that motivated them, the passion they reflected and the mind and sensibility that first conceived, then created them.

<strong>Not since Arnand Tucker’s execrable Hilary and Jackie (about Jacquleine Du Pre)assumed that the most interesting thing about one of the most gifted, mesmeric musicians of her time, was whether she had slept with her brother-in-law, has an artist been so ill-served by a film ostensibly made to celebrate great art. I see no reason to think, and Leigh certainly doesn’t provide one, that a graphic portrayal of a grunting, piggish brute with the sexual sensibility of a dog on heat, has anything at all to do with the creation of several of the most transcendent paintings of not just their time, but any time. And an oddly inappropriate atonal, distancing score doesn’t improve things one jot.

Such a disappointment: and a precious lost opportunity. And the usual unjustified ‘Britfilm’ hype won’t kid anyone for long.

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