by Leo Lowenthal
Let me start by saying that as an American, I might not have been the best choice to review Mike Leigh’s new film Mr. Turner. However, if that is the case, then it isn’t because I don’t like British Film; I do. And so that I don’t slight anyone, even though I am saying British, I mean the entire British Isles, including Ireland and Scotland. As they say in my country, usually referring to minorities, some of my all-time favorite films are either British. (The difference is that I really do love British films and TV. If you’d like a list, I’d be happy to share them with you, as they are all very worthy of being on anyone’s all-time list.)
So, back to my problem, which is more likely because I am an American Film student, who has taken numerous screenwriting classes or seminars. My problem, or problems, in a nutshell (I hope that translates across the water) boils down to two things. First, I am accustomed to, and very much like the classical three-act structure, which Mr. Turner decidedly does not have. However, there have been great films, especially Indie films, that haven’t followed that structure that I have admired in spite of their free form. The bigger problem I had though with Mr. Turner, was that virtually all of the main characters, save one, were unpleasant; not despicable, but definitely unpleasant.
In screenwriting class, one of the first things you are taught, at least in the US, is that you need a “rooting interest.” To keep a viewer’s attention, there has to be someone of something to root for, or even against, as a rooting interest against a character or thing is often even stronger. However, in Mr. Turner, there wasn’t one. Perhaps, if JMW Turner had been absolutely despicable, that might not have actually been such a bad thing. But he wasn’t. He was just a dour old painter who, although perhaps not as famous as some other painters of his day, did enjoy enough success to be shown at the National Gallery, and to be satirized on stage. On the other hand, had he never have had any success, such as Vincent Van Gogh had not, you might have been able to root for him in spite of his personality.
Now I am not going to say that the film is completely void of quality. I mean it has had its successes. Timothy Spall won the Cannes award for Best Actor, while Mike Leigh won a BAFTA for directing. And overall, it has done well at other international film festivals. And in spite of typically being critical of actors, I’d have to say the acting is excellent, all the way from Timothy Spall as JMW Turner, to Martin Savage, who plays contemporary luckless painter Benjamin Haydon. Also worthy of note is the performance of Dorothy Atkinson, who plays Turner’s sickly housekeeper Hannah Darby. Also, the sets and the locations are beautiful, and seemed period appropriate, while the cinematography was more than adequate. And as a watcher of Antiques Roadshow in the US, having seen one or two of Turner’s paintings show up, it was somewhat interesting.
So, if you like good acting, and/or are a fan of British art culture, you would not be wasting your money. And who knows, maybe you’ll say that indeed, I wasn’t the right person to have reviewed Mr. Turner.
Watch this move and many more like it at the macrobert