Thursday, 11 December 2014

Mr Turner - bore, boor and boar!

I went to see Mr Turner yesterday. It was beautifully filmed and the sense of period was terrific, as was the acting, but... why on earth did director Mike Leigh think it was a good idea for Timothy Spall to play the great artist as a snorting, grunting hog? It was a very long film, too -144 minutes - and about thirty minutes in, I began to feel that if I heard one more snotty snort and one more set of wheezing, bubbling lungs, I'd throw up. 

Despite extensive Googling, I have yet to find any evidence that the real-life Turner was as porcine as he was portrayed. I read that Spall tried some grunts a few weeks into the filming, and it was decided that he should keep it in. In my opinion, it was a big mistake. There was just too much of it and it got a bit Tourette's-ish.

It was a pleasure to see a film that engaged the mind rather than just the eyes, but it would have been greatly improved by a bit of tightening up and the loss of fifteen minutes or so. For a start, the opening featured credits rolling silently over a blank screen, which got me thinking "Gerron wiv it!". Why couldn't they have been rolled over the opening shot of the Belgian (or Dutch?) dawn, with the windmill and the canal and Turner standing on the hillock with his sketchbook?

I would have omitted the long-drawn-out scene in the Ruskins' living room, which contributed nothing to the story (was the young Ruskin really so lisping and effete as he was portrayed by Joshua McGuire?) and would have shortened the ghastly, wheezing death scenes of both Turner Senior and Turner Junior. To draw them out so much was unnecessary and, like the grunts and snorts, smacked of overdoing things. 

Another complaint. The only sex scenes were the ones showing Turner claiming droit de seigneur over his poor maid (I thought the bookcase was going to fall over and crush the pair of them!). Why didn't they put in a gentle, loving one between Turner and Mrs Booth, as a contrast with the near rape of the maid? After all, Mrs Booth had spotted that Turner had a sensitive soul shining through the gruff, snorting exterior, so what would have been wrong with a little tenderness? Marion Bailey gave a luminous performance as landlady Mrs Booth, who accepted Turner for what he was and didn't care if he was called Mr Mallord, Mr Turner or Mr Booth. I think Bailey deserves an Oscar even more than Spall, as what she did seemed effortless, yet the love and amusement in her face and the play of emotions in her eyes are lingering in my memory far more than the stomps and snorts of boorish behaviour of Turner as portrayed by Spall.

I must admit that it was wonderful not to have one's ears blasted by a musical soundtrack. It was refreshing to hear birdsong and the clip-clop of hooves. I wouldn't go and see Mr Turner again, but, like all Mike Leigh films, it left me feeling challenged and with more questions in my mind than I went in with. Is that the mark of a good film? Whether it is or not, it is definitely the mark of an interesting one.

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