Sign up for our free newsletter
Timothy Spall has had memorable supporting roles in many of Mike Leigh’s films (Secrets & Lies; Topsy-Turvy), but the British director gave Spall the role of a lifetime in Mr. Turner. In the three-hour biopic, Spall captures the contradictions of J.M.W. Turner, the British “painter of light” who elevated the esteem of landscape painting with his oils and watercolors. The veteran character actor’s cherubic face and working-class disposition are a good fit for Turner, who melded an animalistic style (both on and off the canvas) with a more delicate artistic sensibility. It’s a career-defining performance for Spall, but the film, a dour and often shapeless biopic, can’t quite match it. Leigh forgoes the rise of Turner’s career, instead focusing on his final years after his father’s death when he took up with a poor widow. The film never uncovers any of Turner’s inner secrets, but it does match him in one area: Mr. Turner stands as one of the most gorgeous films Leigh has ever made. The British director’s work is often defined by a visual naturalism, but here, he and cinematographer Dick Pope fill the screen with compositions that could have been brushed by Turner himself. There is real beauty in Mr. Turner, even if there should have been more. The film shows daily at area theaters. See washingtoncitypaper.com/movies for showtimes.