There are few filmmakers who are as respected in the British film industry as Mr. Mike Leigh, who has taken his special skills at creating realistic original characters from the stage to television and then to the big screen with twelve feature films that have garnered him seven Oscar nominations for four of the last five.
True, it can sometimes be a four-year wait in between movies from Leigh, but they rarely disappoint as he tends to work with the same ensemble of skilled British actors to create dramas and comedies that transcend what others do with the artform that is cinema.
With his latest film Mr. Turner, Leigh returns to the territory of his 1999 film Topsy Turvy, creating a period piece based on the life of an artist, in this case 19th Century landscape painter J.M.W. Turner, played by Timothy Spall, appearing in his fifth feature with the director. Turner is not the gentle, kindly artistic type some might expect, but a large-framed brutish man who treats his family, his peers and his poor live-in maid absolutely horribly.
That is countered by the man’s art, which is at the same time as horrifying as it is beautiful, gaining him great respect from his peers but just as much ridicule from those who don’t understand his work. Mr. Turner is not at all like a normal biopic to which we’ve come accustomed, though, because Leigh follows Turner over a number of years, almost creating a slice-of-life fly-on-the-wall type drama where not every scene is obvious in what it’s meant to bring in telling his story as much as delivering one of the pieces in the puzzle that was Turner.
You can watch both of our interviews with both the filmmaker and his main actor in the video players below.
Writer/Director Mike Leigh
We spoke at length with Mr. Leigh about the life and times of J.M.W. Turner, what interested him about the artist and what was involved with creating a period piece about someone whose legendary anti-social behavior
He also talked about how important it is for him to make personal films, knowing that he’s always able to find funding due to the quality of the results.
Timothy Spall – “Mr. Turner”
Following our interview with Mike Leigh, we got to talk to the star of his film who many might know more for his role as Wormtail in the “Harry Potter” movies or as Winston Churchill in The King’s Speech, than for his frequent work with Leigh. (Granted, it’s been 12 years since they last worked together.) Spall had just won the year’s Best Actor award from the New York Film Critics Circle minutes earlier for his performance and we spoke about working with Leigh and what’s involved with depicting a real person without the benefits of archival footage or anything else to go on.
Mr. Turner opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, December 19. Expect it to expand wider in the New Year.