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Listen: Mike Leigh and ‘Mr. Turner’ Crew Uncover the Spirit J. M. W. Turner

[Listen to full on-stage conversation above.]

British cinema icon Mike Leigh’s newest work arrives in the form of a portrait of painter J.M.W. Turner, the world that encompassed him, and the process of artistic creation. Following a screening of the film, Leigh joined NYFF Program Director Kent Jones, accompanied by producer Georgina Lowe, director of photography Dick Pope, production designer Suzie Davies, and actors Marion Bailey, Dorothy Atkinson, and Timothy Spall, to discuss the film and share their perspectives on sharing Turner’s story with contemporary film audiences.

“The more I looked into it,” said Leigh, “the more I realized that Turner, as a character and personality of this conflicted, eccentric, passionate guy ticked all the boxes for a potential character in a Mike Leigh film.” What exactly constitutes a character in a Mike Leigh film? “A complex, vulnerable, strong, weak, human being like the rest of us,” he described.

Accuracy of the world of Mr. Turner was monumental in the realization of the artist’s story. “A great reference is Turner’s work as a visual reference for the whole period," the filmmaker said. "The look of the film comes out a sense of us trying to interpret, visually, his paintings, but also the spirit of the two periods that the film moves through: the late-Georgian and early-Victorian periods.” “Less producing the work, more reproducing the spirit of what he was looking at,” added director of photography Dick Pope.

However, the film’s runtime is not solely devoted to the setting and the subsequent artwork that came from it. “What I’ve tried to do throughout the film, apart from making sure we look at the various paintings and bring them into focus, is also implicitly to talk about what Turner’s preoccupations were, what Turner’s sense of life is in the paintings” Leigh described. It’s not only Turner's character and time in history that is of focus, but how Turner's personal interpretation of his time influenced his work.

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