Mr. Turner at the New York Film Festival

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When British filmmaker Mike Leigh makes a movie, it draws Hollywood’s eye like a beacon all the way across the pond. Since 1996, he’s written and directed eight feature films, and those films have accrued 12 Academy Award nominations and 2 wins. Mr. Turner, Leigh’s next film, will be released in the USA just in time for the holiday season. Indiezone.TV recently joined Leigh and his cast and crew at the red carpet for their New York Film Festival screening.


According to Film Comment’s Kent Jones, in Mr. Turner, “Leigh and his cast achieve something rare—a work that dramatizes both everyday human cruelty and the unspoken longing to rise above it.” The film is J.M.W. Turner’s biography, who was one Britain’s greatest painters, known for capturing light in majestic landscapes. But as Timothy Spall, who plays the main role with what critics are calling “relish” and “sparkle,” elucidated during our interview, the painter had a reputation for being gruff and aloof, a personality at odds with his oeuvre. Mr. Turner brings the artist’s later years to life with brilliant cinematography and thoughtful acting that captures the contentious relationships Turner managed with friend, family, and foe. 


Spall has been in five of Leigh’s films. It’s little surprise that a director with such clear vision and talent inspires loyalty. Much of Mr. Turner’s cast and crew have worked with him for decades. Marion Bailey, who takes on the widow Sophia Booth with whom Turner spent his last few years, has collaborated with Leigh since 1981 at the Hampstead Theatre in London. Mr. Turner is the third Leigh film for Dorothy Atkinson, who plays Hannah Danby, the caretaker of Mr. Turner’s estate and his longtime paramour. Three is also the magic number for production designer Suzie Davies, who joked that she’s only a Leigh newbie during our interview.


A film that seeks to portray an artist’s eye must have a masterful Director of Photography—and having worked with Leigh on twelve films helps, too. Oscar-nominated cinematographer Dick Pope and Leigh weighed in on their desires to depict the landscapes just as Turner saw them and the methods they used to get the job done. From the raves about the rapturous cinematography, we think they succeeded. Check out what Leigh, Pope, and the rest of the main cast and crew had to say in Indiezone.TV’s reports from the red carpet.




The team that investigates locations together makes great films together, if Mike Leigh can be believed. With his exemplary record, we’re pretty sure he can. Leigh insists that the man J.M.W Turner cannot be separated from the artist J.M.W Turner, and the film examines both in Turner’s later years. The director’s job, in Leigh’s informed opinion, is to be the audience’s stand-in, and thus, the actors’ performances should always surprise him.  That’s what makes filmmaking so exciting!



Creating the painterly feel of Mr. Turner was done with a combination of brand-new digital cameras and old-fashioned 1950s lenses. They tried to evoke the spirit of Turner’s paintings, and to do so, the crew essentially walked through the artist’s eyes on location. No visually trickery here! Pope explains that the amazing weather and lighting made the arresting vistas all on their own.  Wisely, Pope refuses to pick a favorite sequence from the film—they should all stand together as the final product.

Spall gives us a rundown of his red carpet outfit’s nautical themes, including the watch made in 1851, the year of Turner’s death, that the actor wore throughout the filming. It’s obvious how well-familiar Spall is with his character as he elaborates on the many ways in which Turner’s personality wasn’t what we’d expect from someone who gave us so much beauty. 



Location’s important in Mr. Turner, but Bailey thinks Mrs. Booth was her own woman, no matter where she made her home. She muses that perhaps Mrs. Booth and Mr. Turner just clicked with each other…or perhaps Mrs. Booth felt sorry for how driven Turner was an artist and wanted to take care of his emotional needs. Does it matter as long as she was happy? Well, the paintings she kept for financial security sure did! Each project Bailey undertakes with Leigh is still invigorating after all this time…but she’s too close to the subject to consider if her own skills have changed over the years.



It might seem like a thankless life for Mr. Turner’s Hannah, but her portrayer reminds us that for an orphan, just having a true home was enough. Atkinson is thrilled to hear that Hannah came through as shyly as she intended. She credits rehearsal and her history of physical acting in the theater with that success. Atkinson also shares what a delight it was, when finally watching the completed film, to see what the other characters had been up to.



Davies admits she’s a more recent addition to Mike Leigh’s cast and crew—she’s only made two films with him before! She shares a few ways that divine providence worked to make Mr. Turner even better than it might have been; namely, the amazing weather and a few ponies who decided they wanted starring roles. “Sun Rising Through Vapor” is her favorite J.M.W. Turner painting, and although it doesn’t appear in the film, it did serve as her inspiration for making sure that Turner’s attention to detail was on display.

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