Ham and Eggs with Mr Turner

It was lovely to sit down for two and a half hours with my mobile turned off. On the minus side, I had to put up with caricatures that would have done Harry Enfield and Chums proud. In the lead role is an on-form Timothy Spall doing his best-ever impression of Timothy Spall’s rendition of Timothy Spall.

His gurning is magnificent, his grunts fit for a piggery at feeding time. It all helps establish JMW Turner’s origins: his father was a barber and his mother a lunatic (as it was termed in Victorian times). The artist’s inarticulacy is well portrayed, but I didn’t see the need to over-egg the pudding, turning him and his housekeeper into Wayne and Waynetta Slob

There is also much gasping, groaning, staggering and falling about, all of which sharpens the contrast between Turner and his colleagues at the Royal Academy (filmed at Wentworth Woodhouse near Rotherham, South Yorkshire). There we have John Carew, David Roberts, John Constable, John Singer Sargent, Sir John Soane and others. The more Turner grunts, the more they twirl, ponder, recoil, ponce about and generally over-act.

Then Mike Leigh takes the piss out of the Ruskin family who come across as unbearably pseud.

I can't show you a Turner. Go to the Tate Britain.

I can’t show you a Turner here. Go to the Tate Britain.

The film Mr Turner goes to huge lengths (or, as the Daily Mail puts it, ‘amazing tricks’) to make the film authentic in every detail. Doctors did house calls in those days, though I’m not sure how Leigh induces Dr Price to come to London all the way from Margate for a simple home visit, especially since, in the film, Margate has quietly slipped west to Cornwall.

Still, the stethoscope is spot on as the simple tube invented by Frenchman René Laënnec His name is pronounced ‘Le Neck’ though this isn’t where doctors wore it at the time. The binaural model used today only came into production in 1851, the year Turner died. 

HP Rapaport Sprague stethoscope, circa 1981

HP Rapaport Sprague stethoscope, circa 1981

I liked Turner’s last mistress Mrs Booth (played by Dorothy Atkinson) who bears more than a passing resemblance to my ex-husband’s new wife. And Marion Bailey is a superb depiction of loyal housekeeper Hannah Danby, not least for the evolution of her psoriasis. First we see her scratching her neck, but later her scaly skin turns rampant. As the years pass, she becomes increasingly stooped and rigid, probably from psoriatic arthropathy which affects some 10% of people with psoriasis.

Turner’s eccentricity and talent come across well, as does the progression of his style of painting. Many of the images are genuinely beautiful. But the acting? More ham than a Bavarian market.

This is just my opinion. In no way does it represent the views of my husband (who thought we had booked to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), let alone the rest of the movie world. I’m sure everyone else will absolutely love the film to bits, darling.

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11 thoughts on “Ham and Eggs with Mr Turner

  1. OMG, sounds a right ‘orrible coupl’a hours … new view of the much-admired painter as ever with films about historical figures – “those who can’t make a movie of it” perhaps! Nice they got some medical bits a tad correct, anyhow.

  2. Mr Turner is probably someone else’s cup of tea, just not mine. Very pleasing to find so many authentic details – obviously one expects nothing less of Mike Leigh and his team..

  3. Saw the film last night and agree totally with you, Carol. The near caricatures of Turner and his fellow artists and the complete misrepresentation of Ruskin really grated, and I felt no sympathy for anyone apart from Mrs Booth and the housekeeper. Seems Mike Leigh couldn’t decide if he was making a tragedy or a comedy.

  4. And I thought I was the only one to think Mr Spall was overacting. I think my daughter had a point when she said she couldn’t watch him playing anything else after seeing him as the rat, Scabbers, in the Harry Potter films. His next role could quite possibly be a pig in a Babe movie.

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