Veddy British auteur Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies, Vera Drake) is known for his distinctive “kitchen sink realism” approach to filmmaking.
Rooted in his background in the theatre (he started at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), his style blends improvisation, intensive character study and months of rehearsal, all before he ever puts pen to paper to begin sculpting his script.
As a result of this process, his films have provided career-defining roles for some of England’s finest actors, including Gary Oldman and Tim Roth (Meantime), Jane Horrocks (Life is Sweet) and David Thewlis (Naked).
Mr. Turner, a biopic of early 19th century British artist J.M.W. Turner, provides a similar platform for Timothy Spall, who is best-known in the U.S. as a supporting player in the Harry Potter series.
Spall’s Turner is a bit of a hot mess, largely communicating in animalistic grunts and grumbles. His brief outbursts of emotion are largely limited to boyish love for his elderly father and unbridled lust for his adoring housekeeper, whom he exploits for his own pleasure when he’s not ignoring her completely.
This brutish exterior belies an artist of great emotional sensitivity, which we see externalized when his father dies and, later, when he meets the widow Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey), the landlady of the seaside house on Chelsea he escapes to increasingly frequently as he falls from royal favor.
As the flawed-but-fascinating Turner, the 57-year-old Spall (who deservedly won the Best Actor award at Cannes) is nothing short of remarkable– a lovable loser you can’t help but root for. Working hand-in-hand with the always-masterful Leigh, they craft an artistic portrait of a complicated man whose external ugliness fails to convey the exquisite beauty and vision of the world that lies within. –Bret Love
RATING: R (for some sexual content)
DIRECTED BY: Mike Leigh
WRITTEN BY: Mike Leigh
STUDIO: Sony Pictures Classics