Commonly, Mike Leigh's films have emphasized interpersonal tensions between characters, like in his breakout Secrets & Lies about a black woman tracking down her working class white birth mother, or Happy Go Lucky about a London school teacher's whose eternal optimism goes against the grumpy grain. But, in Mr. Turner, his latest and perhaps greatest film, Leigh has tells a story more about more abstract themes of artistic and historic tensions.
J.M.W. Turner, the namesake of Mr. Turner, certainly had some interpersonal tensions, an eccentric in early-to-mid-nineteenth century painter who was out of sorts with the well-to-do art patrons in London and a solitary man who carried on a tactic affair for decades. But the film's true joy comes from the exploration of the painter's artistic tensions: Arriving at first as a Romantic landscape artist that selected common motifs like ships on storm-lashed seas, although certainly executing them with more drama than the rest, Turner soon pushed his paintings into more uncharted territory—and, many art historians now acknowledge, as a forefather to the Impressionism Era with his vivant, glowing colors and to the Abstract painters with his increasingly non-literal paintings.
Timothy Spall, who started his career with the Royal Shakespeare Company before drifting to more quirky roles, like appearances in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, plays the role of the title character to perfection, with a certain smug aloofness yet counterbalanced by the earnest desire for recognition.
So highly recommended.
Tin Pan Theater