The stormy seas and fiery skies of J.M.W. Turner have been brought to the big screen in Mike Leigh’s biopic of the British painter.
British actor Timothy Spall, who has appeared in several Mike Leigh films, won Best Actor in Cannes this year for his role as the tormented painter.
A keen artist himself, he took on two years of painting lessons to hone his craft for the role:
“When I did paint – start to paint – the frustrating thing was my teacher said ‘You’ve got a sort of ability,’ so every time I did something wrong it used to kill me. It wasn’t as if I was an idiot and I didn’t know what I was doing, I knew that what I was doing was either good or bad. So, it was a painful process but a great one because it taught me how to hold a brush, taught me how to look like I knew what I was doing, showed me how to mix the paint and all that,” said Spall.
The film explores the last quarter of a century in the life of the eccentric painter. Considered a controversial figure in his day, Turner is now regarded as one of Britain’s finest Romantic artists. He travelled widely in Europe and was a popular if anarchic member of the Royal Academy of Arts – he once had himself strapped to the mast of a ship so that he could paint a snowstorm.
Mike Leigh is known for his filmmaking style that relies heavily on improvisation: “We did – with every single character you see in the film, including the smallest parts – I’ve gone through a process of developing a character and combining research with inventiveness to put on the screen these, what I hope are, three-dimensional, real-feeling people,” he said.
Described as "a deeply moving and beautiful film" and "one of the best to delve into the creative processes of an artistic genius", ‘Mr Turner’ has opened to mostly critical acclaim.
It’s on global release from now.