Tuning into Turner


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We feel a great privilege to have seen Mr. Turner with grumpy Timothy Spall as JMW Turner, one of the 19th centuries most intriguing and under-appreciated seascape artists.

Like most artists or creative people with more than a streak of genius, Turner was boorish, unsocial, and a curmudgeon. He had an eye for color that made up for his personal imperfections. Beneath the surface, he was a man true to himself.

Timothy Spall is perfection, giving one of those tour de force performances that too few people saw, and which denied him the accolades and Oscar he deserved for this work.

A man who did not mince words (when he used them), Turner did all for his art. And, the film is luscious with sunrises and sea scenes that Turner took pains to depict as accurately as his brushes could.

Mr. Turner was odd, to say the least, being a hopeless daddy’s boy—and Daddy pleasantly made sacrifices unto old age to make sure conditions were appropriate for his son’s work.

The film portrays the 19th century in all its class-conscious detail, and the film reeks of atmosphere when required. But, the exquisite goes hand in glove with the ugly.

Small encounters highlight the film. When Turner visits a new fangled photography parlor, he is fascinated and appalled. He mutters he is grateful the camera does not take pictures in color.

If one critic claimed Turner was sublime and ridiculous, so was the world in which the painter worked.

Moving as slowly as the pace of life back then, you must fall into the cadence and morals of the era. The film is a treat in how it transports the viewer into another world.

Seeing a dozen cookie-cutter action films can be tolerated if we have the occasional masterpiece to savor. This continues a streak of brilliant biographical films we have so enjoyed—Theory of Everything, Imitation Game, and Foxcatcher, have restored our faith in superior filmmakers. Add Mr. Turner to the list—and it is a banner year.