by Brenda W. Clough
I am on a Mike Leigh kick these days, and so I could not miss Mr. Turner, one in the plethora of biopics about dead British geniuses this year. With its fanatical historical correctness and affection for the creative arts his Topsy-Turvy completely delighted me. This one is equally a tour-de-force, but not a musical one. Appropriately, it’s almost dizzyingly lush to see — a visual feast that will make you drunk.
J.M. W. Turner was a genius, but he was kindly described as eccentric — that classic British trait! The movie doesn’t miss a bit of it. The hero is gross, obsessive, profoundly selfish. He is fully a man of his time, the early 19th century, whoring, drinking, and sexually abusing the maid. He grunts! But the film magnificently captures his genius. You see not only Turner’s paintings, but the scenes and events that inspire them. They went so far as to mooch a historic locomotive from a technology museum, so that Turner’s train painting could be staged. The movie is unbelievably beautiful, and has been nominated for a number of prizes.Actor Timothy Spall utterly inhabits the part.
As apparently is Leigh’s habit, it’s not long on plot. This is simply the last quarter-century of the great man’s life, dramatized. so you don’t get narrative arc. You don’t get closure. All those things they tell us in Plot and Composition classes, they are not here. And you don’t need them.
My newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out from Book View Café.