One of the most important elements of any movie is its stories characters and how they are drawn and presented to us on the screen. Mike Leigh is a past master in converting actor’s lines to a totally believable portrayal of their personalities. Leigh’s films over the years have given us people like Poppy Cross in Happy Go Lucky (2008), Mary in Another Year (2010), Maurice and Cynthia Purley in the award winning Secrets & Lies (1996) and many more besides. But it’s not just the main characters that are finely illustrated but also the minor one’s. This is one of the noticeable qualities of the British director and writer’s latest movie Mr Turner (2014).
If anything the characters in this biographical period drama are as good as anything that Leigh has done in the past. Firstly we have William ‘Billy’ Turner (Timothy Spall) an artist who painted rather drab seascapes in the 19th century, had two mistresses, the first of which, Sarah Danby (Ruth Sheen), bore him two daughters, which he is said to have denied. His second mistress Sophia Caroline Booth (Marion Bailey) who he shared a house in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea as ‘Mr Booth’ for 18 years and where he uttered his dying words “The sun is God” Both these women are totally different with Sarah the hard faced women who felt very wronged by Billy Turner, where as the twice widowed Sophia was in love with him.
|The two William Turners.|
Two other characters are worth mentioning, Turner faithful housekeeper Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson), who was devoted to her master, although he sexually abused her, and who suffered from the skin disease psoriasis. The other is Turners father, also called William (Paul Jesson) who had lived with and helped his son for 30 years since the death of his wife at a young age locked away in an insane asylum. It was this mans death in 1829 that had a profound effect on the painter who was getting ever more eccentric and also beginning to suffer bouts of depression. It’s these two characters that light up the screen every time they appear, and I can’t help feeling that the film looses something after the death of William Snr?
We could be watching an adaptation of a Charles Dickens novel, the writing is that good. Along with the award winning performance of Timothy Spall, the cinematography of Dick Pope, who captures the vivid light and colour of so many of the scenes that would end up on the artistes canvas and who has worked along side Leigh on many of his movies, and the unique detail’s that make this movie head and shoulders above other period dramas and as importantly brings the 19th century world of art, culture and promiscuity to life.