“Mr. Turner,” the latest effort by British film auteur Mike Leigh, whom I usually admire, bored me to tears.Timothy Spall as Mr. Turner is a very talented British actor, whom I’ve always also admired greatly. But here he lost me completely in this, his Cannes Best Actor-winning role. He won’t repeat this feat at the Oscars, you can bet. I was sooo disappointed in his performance and this film in general.
He’s also up against two thirty something Brits in biopics. Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything” and Benedict Cumberbatch in “Imitation Game.”
Spall, who is one of Leigh’s devoted regulars, in “Mr. Turner” is at his absolute boring worst. He oinks his way through the entire film. Yes, oinks as in what a pig would do. He snorts and grunts and oinks and makes as many barnyard noises as he can think of to show his general disdain for humanity. This usually fine actor is afforded no wiggle room in terms of range. And yes, he’s immensely over-weight to boot. So I guess this film is saying, “Yes, he was a pig” to all who knew him or cared about him, but that’s the way he is at the beginning of the film, and that’s exactly the same way he is on his death bed. No character growth or change. Why should we like this odious man?
Well, he’s considered the greatest British painter, certainly of the 19th Century, and yes, I’ve always enjoyed looking at his remarkable renderings of sun-sets.
But there are no luscious sunsets in this rather grim picture. It’s a shame, because literally we are spending our time with this movie WATCHING PAINT DRY. Literally. And that’s no fun.
Filmmaker Leigh clearly despises his subject and does not give us any reasons to like this awful man. So we don’t. The only nominations this film could get are costumes, set, and maybe, cinematography. Because there are lush vistas – IN THE BACKGROUND.
In the foreground we have the terribly sketched-out private life of the man, who was a beast to all who knew him. Especially the women. He mistreats a devoted female servant played by Dorothy Atkinson, who will ALSO not get an acting nomination for this. He also has a wife, and two daughters, whom he does not want anything to do with either.
It’s a shame. “Topsy Turvy” is one of my all time favorite films. It was Leigh’s exploration of Gilbert and Sullivan. But there despite, once again, an odious central character, W. S. Gilbert (James Broadbent), you always also loved him. AND he was funny. And Leigh had the wonderful Gilbert and Sullivan scores to fall back on, when his own dialogue lagged. And Spall played, and sang, and sang very well, the part of the “Mikado” which is the particular musical piece the film concerns itself with. That film still sends me.
“Mr. Turner” sent me running, for the Exit.
Leigh has his own unique way of working with the actors he uses over and over again. He books them for various amounts of time, and they sign on not knowing what it is they are going to be improvising over the period of several months, or weeks, depending on the size of the role Leigh has in mind.
And here the results, the assembled-from-improv screenplay that Leigh concocts at the end of this elaborate process, is sorely lacking.
And I don’t think the Academy is going to sit still for this one. Especially not the Actor’s branch, as I’ve said.
A couple of seasons ago, I went to mat for the wonderful, poignant performance the great British actress Leslie Manville gave in “Another Year”. I wrote and campaigned and wrote and campaigned, as did many others. Manville didn’t even get nominated. And she should have.
It was then I began to realize that Mike Leigh and his actors were no longer front and center on the Academy’s radar. And “Another Year” was a much, much better film that “Mr. Turner” which is a snore-fest.
Timothy Spall is seen as Mr. Turner walking by endless amounts of butcher shops with pig’s heads in the windows. Ok Ok. We get it. This man is a big fat porker….AND…there is no “And” here. That is all we get. For nearly three hours. The nerve of him to bore us for so long with so little. “Mr. Turner” is a missed opportunity. What a shame! Don’t ever waste my time again like that, Mike Leigh! My patience with you and your grand experiments is wearing thin.