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Mr. Turner Blu-ray Review

Mr. Turner (2014) movie poster Mr. Turner

US Theatrical Release: December 19, 2014 (UK Release: October 31, 2014) / Running Time: 150 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Mike Leigh

Cast: Timothy Spall (J.M.W. Turner), Dorothy Atkinson (Hannah Danby), Marion Bailey (Sophia Booth), Paul Jesson (William Turner Sr.), Lesley Manville (Mary Somerville), Martin Savage (Benjamin Robert Haydon), Ruth Sheen (Sarah Danby), David Horovitch (Dr. Price), Karl Johnson (Mr. Booth), Peter Wight (Joseph Gillott), Joshua McGuire (John Ruskin), Stuart McQuarrie (Ruskin's Father), Sylvestra Le Touzel (Ruskin's Mother), Leo Bill (J.E. Mayall), Kate O'Flynn (Prostitute), Sinιad Matthews (Queen Victoria), Karina Fernandez (Miss Coggins), Richard Bremmer (George Jones), Mark Stanley (Clarkson Stanfield), Jamie Thomas King (David Roberts), Tom Wlaschiha (Prince Albert), Patrick Godfrey (Lord Egremont), Niall Buggy (John Carew), Fred Pearson (Sir William Beechey), Tom Edden (C.R. Leslie), Clive Francis (Sir Martin Archer Shee), Robert Portal (Sir Charles Eastlake), James Fleet (John Constable), Nicholas Jones (Sir John Soane), Roger Ashton-Griffiths (Henry William Pickersgill), Simon Chandler (Sir Augustus Wall Callcott), Edward de Souza (Thomas Stothard), Oliver Maltman (Theatre Actor), Sam Kelly (Theatre Actor)

Buy Mr. Turner from Amazon.com: Blu-ray • DVD • Instant Video

British writer-director Mike Leigh has struck many chords with supremely human character studies. His tragicomedies, including Happy-Go-Lucky, Another Year, and Life Is Sweet,
have won him consistent critical acclaim, even if his films do not always register with the average moviegoer.

Leigh changes gears a bit with Mr. Turner, a period drama about the life of famed 18th-19th century English painter J.M.W. Turner. No typical biopic, the film utilizes Leigh's signature unconventional method in which the script is developed by improvised cast rehearsal exercises. Having a real figure to do justice to, the results aren't nearly as organic, compelling, or accessible as they usually are.

Character actor Timothy Spall, a Leigh veteran who may be best known for playing Peter Pettigrew/Wormtail in the Harry Potter saga, fills the title role. Turner is portrayed as a beast of a man. He speaks in fragments, wears a permanent scowl, and relies as much on grunts as words for communication. The wildly unsympathetic protagonist gropes at and forces himself upon his housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson), a socially awkward woman with a worsening skin disease. While his live-in father (Paul Jesson), who appears to have sired him in adolescence, struggles with hard housework like chopping wood, Mr. Turner paints shipwrecks and landscapes and gives dry lectures on light and color. The arrogant Turner resists giving handouts and his conversations with his peers in the Royal Academy recall those of the wealthy, snobby bet-making businessmen of Trading Places.

Timothy Spall plays English artist J.M.W. Turner in Mike Leigh's "Mr. Turner."

The boorish artist creates discomfort even in impartial observance. His work is prominently displayed, its significance never clear. His unorthodox methods of incorporating spit and exhales are dramatized,
without making us appreciate their effects. It is difficult to imagine this profile of such a mercurial, lecherous, unpleasant subject producing more than disdain or bewilderment in the typical viewer.

The film and Spall's characterization are so absurd, you cannot help but be amused. One assumes that Leigh is not oblivious to this. He is a master of mining awkward situations for comedy. But this goes beyond bizarre with its gleefully off-putting content, as if Leigh is putting all the arthouse goodwill he has developed over the years to the test, to determine if critics and cineastes are ravenous enough for the unusual to see the value in this. Leigh passes that test with flying colors; his latest film received almost universal high acclaim from critics. Its Rotten Tomatoes ratings were right on par with Boyhood and Birdman, the top two Best Picture contenders. You wouldn't really expect any less from a Mike Leigh film that premiered at Cannes (where Spall won Best Actor honors) and opened in US theaters days before Christmas.

Actually, Mr. Turner wound up with a lesser awards profile than anticipated. The Academy Awards have frequently recognized Leigh's screenwriting and twice his directing. This movie, however, had to settle for technical category nominations, four in total: Cinematography, Costume Design, Production Design and Original Score. Even the BAFTAs, where this film had an obvious home court advantage, only extended four technical nods (the same as the Oscars, except Make Up & Hair instead of Score). These are not awards that you can accuse of being too mainstream or lowbrow, either, so the fact that Mr. Turner got shut out of the major categories should say a lot about its appeal.

Mr. Turner (Timothy Spall) does not take kindly to conversation initiated by others.

Truly, most of the film's delights are technical in nature. It is nicely photographed by Dick Pope, who drew the best mispronunciation in the history of Academy Awards nomination announcements. It does a good job of aging characters and in making them look as ugly as intended.

In terms of storytelling, Mr. Turner isn't as easy to admire. Though the credits confess to some fictionalization, little dramatic license seems to have been taken for entertainment purposes. The most exciting episodes include Turner turning down an offer to sell his life's work for 100 thousand pounds (a princely sum in the mid-1800s), getting his daguerreotype photograph taken by a swell salesman, and flirting with a widowed boarding house owner (Marion Bailey), where he frequently stays as "Mr. Mallard." There is no greater story being told, as the film ends with the end of Turner's life, its significance no more clear to us than when we started watching the film.

Months after concluding its minor UK-dominated theatrical run, Mr. Turner recently came to Blu-ray and DVD.

Mr. Turner Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, French, Portuguese), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Video Service, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Portuguese, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Most Extras Subtitled
Release Date: May 5, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Also available on DVD ($30.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video


Mr. Turner is more likely to win you over visually than dramatically, which makes it all the more satisfying that the Blu-ray's picturesque 2.40:1 presentation lives up to Sony's high standard for high definition video. The warm, vibrant compositions boast all the sharpness, detail, and clarity that 1080p affords them. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack also commands praise, with its crisp dialogue and fine distribution of Gary Yershon's Oscar-nominated score.

The infamous Dick Pope (I repeat Pope) speaks in front of a rainy English window in the cinematography-focused featurette "Mr. Turner: The Cinematic Palette." Mike Leigh directs Timothy Spall at a canvas in "The Many Colours of Mr. Turner."


The Blu-ray's extras begin with an audio commentary by writer-director Mike Leigh.
No stranger to the solo commentary format, Leigh fills the extensive air with an assortment of screen-specific remarks. He distinguishes between invented notions and real facts discovered in the production's considerable research, as well as between real scenery and digital embellishment. Leigh identifies actors he's repeatedly worked with as they appear by their other roles and shows a clearer admiration for Turner than his film does. The two and a half hours needed to watch the film once is enough of a challenge that I wouldn't dare recommend this track. However, those who align with the critical majority may appreciate getting to pick the filmmaker's brain at length here and to separate fact from fiction.

On the video side, where all is encoded in HD, we start with "Mr. Turner: The Cinematic Palette" (16:45), a featurette which celebrates the film's cinematography and some other aspects.

"The Many Colours of Mr. Turner" (31:50) also considers the visuals, but as part of a larger discussion of production and costume design, characters, and so on.

"Billiards" is a short deleted scene (1:10), which finds Turner sketching while two men chat and play pool, or the 19th century English equivalent.

Finally, Mr. Turner's US theatrical trailer (2:11) is kindly preserved.

It is worth noting that "The Cinematic Palette" is the only bonus feature exclusive to Blu-ray; the rest apparently also made it to the DVD that's not included here.

"Previews" repeats the same six trailers with which the disc opens, promoting Whiplash, Still Alice, Leviathan, Wild Tales, The Salt of the Earth, and Saint Laurent.

The static, silent menu adapts the poster/cover art. Sony kindly authors the disc to both resume playback and let you set bookmarks on your favorite uncomfortable moments.

The side-snapped keepcase is not joined by any slipcover, inside artwork, or inserts, which as you can surmise means that this Blu-ray does not include Digital HD.

Mr. Turner (Timothy Spall) strikes a handsome pose for his first daguerreotype photograph.


Long, unpleasant, and seemingly pointless, Mr. Turner makes for an unsatisfying viewing despite all of its technical achievements. Sony's Blu-ray shows off those cinematic pleasures and adds some extras of value, but I don't expect you to share critics' enthusiasm for the film itself.

Buy Mr. Turner from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Written and Directed by Mike Leigh: Life Is Sweet • Happy-Go-Lucky
Timothy Spall: Upside Down • Sweeney Todd • The King's Speech • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
New: Big Eyes • Lost River • The Immigrant • The Barber • Kidnapping Mr. Heineken
Oscar Competition: The Grand Budapest Hotel • The Imitation Game • Into the Woods • Interstellar • Inherent Vice • Maleficent
The Last Station • Enchanted April • Coriolanus • Amour

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Reviewed May 11, 2015.

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