Renowned British director Mike Leigh (Naked, Secrets and Lies) returns with a handsome biopic. He’s on familiar ground, but can an artistic biopic break his Oscar losing streak?
What’s it about? Er, Mr. Turner. More specifically, it’s about Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851), arguably the finest of all British painters. Starting out as a gifted Romantic painter with stunning vistas of light and natural phenomena, his later, less formal works often see his regarded as an early Impressionist.
The film is written and directed by Leigh, and stars his regular collaborator Timothy Spall as Turner. It co-stars Lesley Manville, Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson and Ruth Sheen.
Pros: Garnering excellent reviews on its premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Mr. Turner ultimately secured the Best Actor award for Spall’s portrayal of Turner. Working with several regular collaborators (several cast members, cinematorgrapher Dick Pope, editor Jon Gregory, composer Gary Yershon), Leigh delivers a gorgeous-yet-unfussy portrayal of Turner’s last years. The camerawork and angles are an attempt to homage the vivid colours and use of light in Turner’s works.
The Cannes win for Spall’s mesmerising performance is a big boost, and it also received great acclaim at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), where many recent Best Picture Oscar winners have screened before going on to awards glory.
Cons: Awards bodies generally love a biopic but, while Mr. Turnerably fits the bill, there doesn’t seem to be much new here that Leigh hasn’t done before in other period pieces like Topsy-Turvy or Vera Drake.
Mr. Turner is very much the safe choice for awards bodies this year, perhaps lacking the bite of something like 12 Years A Slave. It may appear especially safe next to some of its idiosyncratic competition, such as Maps To The Stars or Foxcatcher.
What are its chances? Most attention will be on Spall and the look of the film. Oscar nominations are likely, and Spall and Pope could be rewarded for their efforts, but something more original could pip Mr. Turner at the post for Best Picture. Don’t write it off, though; Mr. Turner is very much a safe choice in the King’s Speech mould.