SUPERB BIOPIC, VISUAL FEAST
4 AND 1/2 STARS
William Turner painted the most stunning landscape and seascapes, and Mike Leigh makes you experience that visual feast on the screen. But his portrait of the gruff, grunting, grouchy man adds the perfect spice to this feast.
Even if you have never heard of William Turner, Mike Leigh's stupendous biopic will make you want to add Margate to your bucket list. You would want to seek out more such places so you can Instagram the fabulous sunsets and sunrises and sit by the sea and wonder why your DSLR cameras and your Smartphone cameras are simply unable to capture the colors that a painter managed to capture first in his sketchbooks, and then on the canvas.
The director Mike Leigh creates that visual feast and every frame seems to be shot in water color or oil paint rather than film. Every character, from the painter's dad, the housekeeper, the people on the ferry, the artists in the Academy, the failed artist, the art critics and art patrons are all created with love. You feel sorry for the artist when his shrewish wife and almost imbecilic daughters show up ever so often at his home, hoping for a handout. We know that the artist is not doing right by them, but the director makes us sympathetic to the artist, and not his abandoned wife.
That is the kind of magic you will see when it comes to characters in Turner's life. Mike Leigh does not need to show you the great rivalry between Turner and his contemporary Constable. Just a grunt and a growl and you want more. You are given more of Ruskin, who is exquisitely foppish and a delightful popinjay, and you almost expect to mince his steps in high heels and partake of snuff. The movie makes all the art history lessons you took at college real.
The brilliant Timothy Spall is not tall and dashing, but his gruff, florid gent who speaks few words (and still manages to convey a whole lot) works its charm. His speech is slurred and you begin to slowly understand why he chooses to grunt. He's no gentleman. He grabs the scabby Hannah lustfully and without any finer feeling. You begin to wonder how a base man paints such glorious pictures, when you are shown his sensitive side when Mrs Booth shows us how amazing his inner world is.
I was not only fascinated by the Turner's inner world, but also stunned into seeing how brilliantly Mike Leigh brings the gorgeous places Turner painted on to the big screen. I emerged from the theater wondering if one could take a trip in real life to Margate and rural Dutch countryside, and my watch told me it was almost three hours long.
What awesome three hours, I think, and I wonder what Turner would have made of our Bombay skies criss-crossed by cable wires...