CANNES: Veteran British director Mike Leigh drew rapturous reviews yesterday 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 film-maker 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Cannes Film Festival runs until May 25.