Directed by: Mike Leigh. Prior to commencement, pray acquaint yourself with the film in question, in order that you might read these words in the affectation of an exaggerated early 19th century British accent, especially that of the titular Turner himself, whose delivery by Mr. Spall so delightfully mixes a rather eloquent and upper class diction and extensive vocabulary with an unmistakably working-class Cockney pronunciation.
I don’t have the patience to continue on like that, but the diction and vocabulary of the characters was one of the things that I loved most about this movie. I didn’t know anything about Turner before this, but I’m generally a fan of impressionism (which he apparently kick started), and I’m generally a fan of Mister Mike Leigh. This film has that same great mixture of distance and warmth, without spilling into sentimentality (like Ken Loach sometimes does) that I loved so much in Topsy-Turvy and Another Year. As much as this film was kind of lumped in with the Oscar bait, fluffy, biopic, historical-costume-drama fare of the year, this was a welcome departure from the telltale Hollywood Meryl Streep-ish quality that usually coats the characterization and dialogue and overall treatment of the period. Here, we see a world that looks quaint and old-thymey, but also messy, dirty, plain, unglamourous, naturally-lit, worn and frayed and overall quite drab and un-cinematic in a lot of ways. Turner himself is the embodiment of this—for all of the “genius” that is ascribed to him by his contemporaries in the film, we can see that he is also a fairly uncouth fellow, a particularly “deadbeat” kind of a dad, self-centered and uncaring, and whose relationship to his housekeeper is unpleasant to say the least. The way that Leigh treats that particular subplot, the openly invented dalliances with the housemaid, and the grey area around consent, her own feelings, the extent to which she was in love with him, how she felt about him at all—it’s not ignorant, but it did make me wonder why it was needed. I suppose Leigh would argue he was trying to infuse a bit of the messy, un-recoupable bits of “real life”, the kind that don’t fit the Great Man Theory, and which usually don’t fit Hollywood biopics either. People blunder through life, often unaware and indifferent to the effect they have on people in their wake, and at least I got the impression that the film itself was interested in poor Hannah and her feelings, even if only at the margins (she was, after all, in the margins of Turner’s own consciousness, not at the centre). And, for all that, I really felt that the romance between Turner and Mrs. Booth was very charming and wonderful, and it’s that kind of feeling that keeps people coming back to Mike Leigh’s stuff over and over. It’s not revolutionary stuff, but the cinematography is absolutely amazing, and character study of this guy is impressively nuanced, and the acting and set design and absolutely incredible.