Britain's Mike Leigh cheered as Cannes race kicks off

15th May 2014, Comments 0 comments

Veteran British director Mike Leigh drew rapturous reviews Thursday for a lush historical portrait of painter JMW Turner as the race for gold kicked off at the Cannes Film Festival.

Timothy Spall, a character actor best known as Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter movies and Winston Churchill in "The King's Speech", delivered a grunting, snorting, spitting, womanising warts-and-all performance in "Mr Turner" of the tortured Romantic landscape painter.

Both the daily Guardian and Time Out London gave the period drama a maximum five stars, calling the latest from the filmmaker behind "Vera Drake" and "Secrets and Lies" "extraordinary" and "a dazzling feat of confidence".

David Ketchum, a contributor to industry bible Variety, posted on Twitter that "Mr Turner" was "impeccably crafted, absolute cinematic perfection" while Nigel Smith of US movie website Indiewire hailed the performances as "across the board magnificent".

The biopic traces the life of the iconoclastic genius who infused his depictions of threatening skies and stormy seas with reflections of his troubled inner life.

The film starts with Turner, already a star of the early 19th century art world, living in convivial harmony with his ailing barber father in London, while treating the women in his life with contempt.

These include his neglected former mistress, their two daughters and his long-suffering housekeeper, whom he uses sexually when the mood strikes him.

He is a powerful member of the establishment who rubs shoulders with his aristocratic patrons and the fellow members of the Royal Academy while travelling where his muse takes him to capture the perfect light.

An eccentric of few words and enormous appetites, Turner communicates much of the time through guttural noises, a fact that Spall put down to his trouble putting his racing thoughts into words.

"He's got this burning, this burning thing inside him. So rather than say it, it's just (three grunts)," Spall told reporters.

But after the death of his father plunges him into depression, he begins spending more time on the Kent coast with a kindly twice-widowed woman, Mrs Booth, who shows him the warmth he lacked in his own childhood from his "lunatic" mother.

'Man of mystery'

Turner, who died in 1851 at the age of 76, is bewildered and inspired by the technological changes the Victorian age brings, including the new camera used to take his portrait.

Spall said he practised painting for two years before starting to film with Leigh and said his extensive research revealed Turner to be "a man of mystery".

"The great thing is that what made us a perfect match, apart from anything, is that he was a funny-looking fat little man and so am I," he said.

"To me what makes the film so wonderful is that it's about how genius is not always in the most romantic of packages. Most geniuses are strange, they do have conflict... they are often odd-looking sociopaths."

Leigh, who took home the Cannes festival's Palme d'Or top prize in 1996 for "Secrets and Lies", is up against 17 other contenders this year including fellow Briton Ken Loach, who will be premiering "Jimmy's Hall" about an Irish communist who was deported in the 1930s.

He said his admiration for Turner's work gave rise to the project, as well as an interest in a multi-dimensional portrait of the artist.

"Turner is a great, obviously, a great artist, one of the great painters of all time anywhere, really, a great, radical, revolutionary painter," he told reporters.

He said he thought there would be scope for "a fascinating film because of the tension between this very mortal, in some ways flawed, and very inspired individual and this epic work".

The Cannes Film Festival runs until May 25.

© 2014 AFP

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