Mike Leigh continues to master the cinematic world: Mr. Turner

A planned theatre excursion yesterday became more modest with a trip back up to The Maple Theater to see Mr. Turner, the new film from acclaimed British director Mike Leigh that is enjoying an exclusive Detroit area engagement at that cinema.

Leigh’s masterful touch for storytelling, depth and composition is evident in every frame of this artfully assembled film. It was one of the most engaging biopics I have ever seen, in that the viewer is invited to walk along with the story as it progresses, and not given a specific sense of time via obtrusive title cards, fade outs, or montages. The level of detail in the film is quite frankly amazing, going from one setting to the next and not losing any focus, or drawing back with a wider landscape or vista from time to time.

Veteran character actor Timothy Spall appears in nearly every scene as the curmudgeonly Turner, and lends forceful presence to minor lines, especially a recurring quasi-grunt that becomes his signature statement as the film goes on. Spall reportedly spent two years learning how to paint in preparation for this role, which seems characteristic of the depth and intensity Leigh commands from performers who join him for his productions. Many actors, including Spall, recur over multiple Leigh films; others seen here include Ruth Sheen, who had a leading role in Leigh’s last film Another Year, and Lesley Manville, who also featured prominently in the previous film and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing perform several times onstage.

A series of short and evocative orchestral pieces by composer Gary Yershon also contribute to the rich texture of the film, and a subtle sense of time and life going on. (To reiterate) the exquisite level of detail really captivated me throughout the long film and seemed to fuse history, entertainment and cultural studies into a powerful and potent mix.

My Rating: ****