I have long admired the work of Turner, particularly his seascapes which seem to usher in the later modern art movement as he relaxes form. I love art though I have no skill in it personally. It is always fascinating to learn about the lives of great artists so I was very much looking forward to seeing this film.
Leigh deals with the later life of Turner which takes place in Victorian London. The film is visually sumptuous. There are gorgeous scenes of hackney cabs, London townhouses, fascinating food markets, crazy paint supply shops, ships in fierce storms and stuffy gallery showings.
At the centre of this world Timothy Spall is brilliant in his portrayal of the elderly Turner who grunts and snuffles like a farmyard pig, grumpily painting, eating and goosing his scrofulous housekeeper.
Later there is a love story between Turner and the homely Mrs Booth. Turner abandons his townhouse to set up home in secret with Mrs Booth in a cottage by the Thames. He is utterly dedicated to his painting.
Leigh is at his best in this film. The conversations of the “quality” are hilariously ridiculous. There is humour, pathos and ultimately hope.
Interestingly though, Leigh chooses to end not with Mrs Booth smiling in the sunshine but with the abandoned housekeeper, wandering around the empty London house, paralysed with grief at Turner’s death.
A triumph. Go see.