Sunday, January 4, 2015

Mr. Turner

Mr. Turner does not disappoint you by trivializing its subject but it does not try to penetrate beneath the surface of the last third of his life very deeply. Frederick Spall turns in a nice performance as the often grunting, mumbling painter who to my mind was the most direct precursor of impressionism. The strongest feature of the film is its rendition of fabulous scenery that looks as it had emerged directly from a Turner painting.

The mid-19th century setting--in London and the seaside at Margate--realizes the still-primitive life even reasonably well-off people like Turner lived then. Turner was apparently regarded as acceptably skilled and thus admitted to the Royal Academy, where he was treated as eccentric by even great realistic painters such as Constable. The young John Ruskin, seen in the picture as a critical prodigy, seems to realize Turner's excellence.

Turner's marine paintings often highlight the flash of sunlight against water. As he grew older, the paintings became more and more akin to the impressionist works that would soon follow from the likes of Monet as the light and sea almost merge in gauzy colors. The film makes it clear that he knew what he was about although he never expounds on his art or his intentions.

This is not a film for action-picture fans but I thought it presented a rewarding view into the life of one of the most important painters. By framing it scenes in Turner seascapes, it extends its impact by drawing you even more totally into his world.

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