Leigh’s 12th theatrical feature is certainly a portrait of a great artist and his time, but it is also a film about one of the oldest of human problems: other people. Cannes Best Actor–winner Timothy Spall’s grunting, unkempt J.M.W. Turner is always either working or thinking about working. During the better part of his interactions with patrons, peers, and even his own children, he punches the clock and makes perfunctory conversation, while his mind is clearly on the inhuman realm of the luminous. After the death of his beloved father (Paul Jesson), Turner creates a way station of domestic comfort with a cheerful widow (Marion Bailey), and he maintains his artistic base at his family home, kept in working order by the undemonstrative and ever-compliant Hannah (Dorothy Atkinson). But his stays in both houses are only rest periods between endless and sometimes punishing quests for a closer and closer vision of light, in this rich, funny, moving, and extremely clear-eyed film about art and its creation. An NYFF52 selection.


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