There is a wonderful juxtaposition in the modesty Timothy Spall evinces about his work, and the enormous talent he brings to it. When I mentioned his winning the best actor award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, he said with a half-laugh that no one was more surprised about it that he was.
He must have been the only one.
His performance in and as the revolutionary 19th-century artist MR TURNER is revelation. As all good film performances should do, it shows, doesn’t explain, and the difficult, contradictory personality of a painter ahead of his time who discovers the fickleness of public opinion, the oppressiveness of conventional responsibilities, and the curious nature of a man who sees things differently.
MR TURNER’s writer/director, Mike Leigh, has a singular approach to filmmaking, workshoping his actors, and letting them create characters and story from scratch. How this was adapted to tell Turner’s story was the first thing I asked Spall when we spoke on November 14, 2014. The process of creating what Spall calls the proto-human being of a man who was obsessively secretive was fascinating.
We went on to discuss egregious exposition, why cinema survives,
And, of course, there is that grunt with which Spall has gifted his Turner. More evocative that mere dialogue, it is used by this master actor to convey both the most explosive and the most subtle of sentiments.
MR. TURNER is a biopic about the 19th-century painter as revolutionary in its approach as the paintings JMW Turner produced. Picking up the story towards the middle of Turner’s life, and after he has gained fame, fortune, and both critical and public acclaim, it delves into the contradictions of a man who is moved almost to tears by music, and who delights in publically belittling a fellow artist, whose personal life is a mix of distance and desire. Mr Spall’s previous work includes Wormtail in the Harry Potter series, Winston Churchill in THE KING’S SPEECH, and several other collaborations with Mike Leigh, not the least of which are LIFE IS SWEET, TOPSY TURVY and SECRETS AND LIES, which marked his last official trip to San Francisco. He has also starred as himself on British television’s TIMOTHY SPALL SOMEWHERE AT SEA. He won the Best Actor award at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival for his title role in MR TURNER.