Glorious period drama is a masterpiece

Timothy Spall as Joseph Mallord William Turner. Photo: PA Photo/Handout/eOnefilms
Timothy Spall as Joseph Mallord William Turner. Photo: PA Photo/Handout/eOnefilms

On his death bed, celebrated landscape painter Joseph Mallord William Turner reportedly lamented: “So I am to become a non-entity.”

Mike Leigh’s impeccably crafted biopic, which concentrates on the final 25 years of the artist’s career, ensures the genius of Turner lives on.

Anchored by a magnificent central performance from Timothy Spall, Mr Turner is another glorious ensemble piece from the writer-director of Topsy-Turvy and Vera Drake.

Developed through improvisational workshops, which are the trademark of Leigh’s filmmaking process, the script melds historical fact with personal interpretation to burrow deep beneath the surface of the characters and expose the desires and fears which drove some to greatness and others to despair.

When it comes to greatness, Spall’s embodiment of an artist with few social graces and a surplus of talent is the stuff that Oscars were made of. The 150-minute running time passes too quickly, holding our attention with ravishing costumes and period detail as well as a haunting orchestral score from composer Gary Yershon.

Very nearly a masterpiece.