Most biopics follow a very simple formula and, while it’s not always a bad thing, it becomes more and more predictable. “Lincoln” and “Selma” are great examples of films that portray a famous historical figure at a certain moment in time, rather than their whole lifespan. I feel like these films are better than the average biopic because they had more time to devote to the story rather than trying to cram everything in. While it may focus on the latter half of his life, “Mr. Turner” is a slow, yet beautiful look at the English painter.

In his lifetime, J.M.W. Turner [Timothy Spall] was a man with a passion for painting to the highest degree. The film picks up in 1826 where he returns home to his father, William [Paul Jesson], one of his primary influences. Turner can best be described as a man of few words, but whenever he does have something to say, it has to do with what he loves most — his work.

Philip Bergeron / Graphic Design Editor

Philip Bergeron / Graphic Design Editor

Regarding the plot, there isn’t much of one. The film in a nutshell is the second half of Mr. Turner’s life. For the most part, you’re watching his life play out. It doesn’t sound like it would be interesting but, surprisingly, it was.  Like the protagonist himself, “Mr. Turner” is a very quiet film and, because of this, may alienate casual viewers. This isn’t a movie that you can turn on and watch at any time.

What makes “Mr. Turner” so incredible to watch is Timothy Spall. If he failed in his performance, this film would have fallen flat. Fortunately, he doesn’t, as he breathes life into this character. Most of Spall’s performance is told through body language as his face gives us an idea of what he’s thinking.

Giving credit where credit’s due, I commend the decision by Director Mike Leigh not to shy away from some of the more scandalous aspects of his lifetime. During these moments, you’re left to decide for your own whether you should sympathize with him or not. Turner was not a perfect man by any means and this is one biopic that’s not afraid to show it.

The man himself is very fascinating because while you may not see it immediately, he hurts inside. Whenever he loses a loved one or his paintings are ridiculed, it takes him a while to let his feelings out, resulting in a stream of spontaneous waterworks that comes out of nowhere. If you can muster it, you could make a drinking game based on how many times he grumbles.

The film is largely comprised of Turner going from person to person, yet remains interesting to watch. My only complaint is that the film clocks in at two and a half hours. For such a simple story, it tends to drag on for quite a bit.

Besides the acting, the thing that kept me invested was the cinematography. This is by far one of the best looking films of last year thanks to Dick Pope’s craftsmanship. One of my favorite shots is right after Turner tampers with one of his paintings. It cuts to what looks like one of the paintings but instead, the camera pans down to reveal an English landscape. That is why that man deserved his nomination for Best Cinematography as nearly every shot is as carefully planned out as one of Turner’s paintings.

“Mr. Turner” is not one of those films that you want to watch again right away, but it’s worth seeking out based on the performances and cinematography alone.

Rating: B

Matt Bilodeau can be contacted at

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