I’ve long touted Timothy Spall as being one of the finest film actors of his generation, and his work in Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner” should put any lingering doubts to rest. Looking for the real crime regarding nomination exclusion from early 2015’s Academy Awards roster? Then names like Aniston and Oyelowo, should not be the ones you come up with. Mr. Spall won both the Cannes Film Festival and the National Society of Film Critics Best Actor awards for portraying 19th century painter, J.M.W. Turner. Spall being denied an Oscar nom is the night’s most glaringly horrendous oversight. Alright, it’s true that you can barely understand a word he’s saying, throughout the movie’s 150-minute running time. By the way, that’s what that subtitle button on your remote is for. Because if anyone ever should’ve received a golden statue for grunting, mumbling, blustering and huffing–it’s Mr. Spall. The spell he casts here is magical. Take that, Marlon Brando!
It’s the last couple of decades, or so, in the life of British artist J.M.W. Turner. He loses his beloved father, William (a strong Paul Jesson), exploits and relies on his long-suffering housekeeper, Hannah (a terrific Dorothy Atkinson), and begins a relationship with a newly widowed landlady (the marvelous Marion Bailey). Celebrated for his artistry, yet despised for his boorishness and eccentricity–he’s also a deadbeat dad who suffers major bouts of depression. Turner is renowned today as master of watercolor landscape painting. He died in 1851.
In 2010, the acclaimed English actress, Lesley Manville, gave my favorite performance of that particular year, in Mr. Leigh’s previous film to this one, “Another Year”. Ms. Manville, who has a small part in “Mr. Turner”, garnered an armful of 2010 acting awards, yet failed to receive an Oscar nomination. Ditto the fantastic Sally Hawkins in Leigh’s 2008, “Happy-Go-Lucky”. So, an unfortunate pattern has taken hold. Timothy Spall’s work in “Mr. Turner” was the most lived-in, expressive, mature and nuanced acting I’ve witnessed from 2014. He’s absolutely great in a motion picture that is so naturalistic and mature-adult directed, that many will most likely be turned of by its extremely dry content. Thought “The Imitation Game” or “The Theory of Everything” were amongst the highest level of artistic achievements last season? Then “Mr. Turner” is probably not for you. But many should rejoice. And Mike Leigh, our superb director of actors, a beloved playwright and screenwriter, who has been nominated for 7 Academy Awards–has given us another gem. “Mr. Turner ” is as uncompromising as it is excellent.