The man considered by many England's greatest painter was an enigma - gruff, often uncouth, unwilling to legally commit to a woman yet also capable of poetry, a refractor of beauty and a man uncommonly attached to his father, a retired barber whom he called 'Daddy.' He was celebrated in his time, but when his style became more impressionistic, his methods unconventional, he was also mocked. The painter most known for his seascapes and uncanny conjuring of light was "Mr. Turner."
Laura's Review: A
With his Cannes winner for Best Actor (Timothy Spall, "All or Nothing") and Technical Achievement (cinematographer Dick Pope, "Another Year"), writer/director Mike Leigh ("Topsy-Turvy," "Another Year") has created one of the great films about an artist. He tells J.M.W. Turner's tale over the last twenty-five years of his life, showing his travels, his relationships with women, other artists and the aristocracy, each episode building our sense of the man while also illuminating the creative spirit which drove him. The film is stunningly photographed, Pope often capturing the qualities that Turner put on canvas while art direction, costume and makeup place us in his world. When he returns from a trip to Antwerp, his first concern is the state of his supplies. William Turner (Paul Jesson, "All or Nothing") acts as his assistant, while housekeeper Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson, "Topsy-Turvy") pauses for signs of affection. She gets a gruff grope. When Turner's former mistress arrives with his two adult daughters and new grandchild to complain about his lack of financial support, we learn that Sarah Danby (Ruth Sheen, "All or Nothing," "Another Year") is Hannah's aunt. At the country estate of Lord Egremont (Patrick Godfrey), Turner tortures fellow artist Benjamin Robert Haydon (Martin Savage, "Another Year," "Rush") when he requests a loan, eventually giving the man half of what he'd asked for (later, learning of the man's real misfortune, Turner nullifies the debt). Egremont and his peers deem Haydon 'not of their temper,' yet, oddly, accept Turner who clearly isn't either. It's a tidy comment on how financial resources affect peoples' notions of social class. But Turner suddenly surprises us when he comes across Miss Coggins (Karina Fernandez, "Another Year," "Pride") playing piano, his eyes registering an appreciation of the visual and aural beauty. His croaking rendition of 'Dido's Lament' is moving. His coarse antics while painting in the company of young women set them to giggling, but leave them with a lesson. Turner traveled to get first hand experience and his appreciation for the light in the Eastern coastal town of Margate brings him to a rooming house run by Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey, "All or Nothing," "Vera Drake"). When he later learns she's lost her husband, Turner's appreciation of the woman is all the courtship she needs and Mrs. Booth becomes his last long term lover. In London, he's devastated when his father dies after a shared joke about his mother. Hannah, deteriorating before our eyes, continues to yearn for the man who shows her little attention. She's stunned when she discovers his secret life as 'Mr. Booth.' Leigh dots his film with curious events. Scottish scientist Mary Somerville (Lesley Manville, "Another Year," charming) intrigues him with her studies on violet light, using it to magnetize a needle. Strolling the latest exhibit at the Royal Academy, he delights his peers with his silent mockery of John Constable's (James Fleet, "Four Weddings and a Funeral") 'Opening of Waterloo Bridge' by daubing a splotch of that artist's prodigious scarlet into the middle of his own work, then returning to transform it into a buoy. He's lashed to a ship's mast to immerse himself into a swirling snowstorm. In one significant edit, Leigh cuts from Turner spitting on his canvas to moss dribbling down a cliff, an ingenious juxtaposition imagining the painter's eye. Even after a theater piece satirizes his unusual techniques to gales of laughter and the Queen herself flinches from his latest work, Turner refuses the enormous sum of $100K from an American millionaire for his works, intending instead to bequeath it to his country. As his health rapidly declines, he calls Mrs. Booth 'Me damsel,' words he'd used for Hannah, but his last 'The sun is God!' find him embracing his passion - the light. Spall's Turner looks like a Toby jug. He bustles his bulk about grunting like an exhaling bellows. The actor, occasionally revealing an actor's tics, nonetheless gets at the dichotomies of the man, getting us inside his head. His contrasts are elevated by Leigh as he ends with the two women he leaves behind, Mrs. Booth in affectionate mourning, Hannah in lonely despair, abandoned in his now empty home. Gary Yershon's ("Another Year") magnificent score, sad and edgy, almost prickly, sidesteps period convention Grade:
Robin's Review: B-
Laura Henderson (Judi Dench) is both saddened and pissed off that her husband has suddenly died and left her, rich but alone. It is London, 1937, and she doesn’t want to endure the usual wealthy widow usual activities of charity and social work. When she spies a run down theater in London’s West End, she has the idea to become an impresario. But, Mrs. H knows she needs professional help to fulfill her vision. Enter veteran producer Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) and, between them, a stage phenomenon is born in “Mrs. Henderson Presents.” Helmer Stephan Frears, using a fact-based script by Martin Sherman, tells a story about an innovative concept of live stage that resonated through the highest levels of London government during the darkest days of the Battle of Britain as England fought for her life against the Nazi aerial onslaught. Mrs. Henderson Presents” is an old fashioned, plucky British-stiff-upper-lip-during-the-blitz movie that does a lovely job in creating a look and feel reminiscent of the period it portrays. Directed by Stephen Frears from a script by Martin Sherman, “Mrs. H” is for mature audiences only. By that I mean really mature, as in not young. This will appeal to the senior ranks but will fall far short with the youth-oriented crowd. Mrs. Henderson purchases the rundown Windmill Theater and begins a program to rejuvenate the old West End hall. She hires Van Damm who comes up with a hook to make the theater a stand out above the rest – continuous performances from matinee to late night closing. The stage revue, dubbed Revudeville, is a big hit and folks flock to it. For a while. Then the rest of the theaters follow suit and a new plan is needed. Then, Mrs. H has a brainstorm – nude performers on stage. She enlists her friend, High Commissioner Lord Cromer (Christopher Guest), to get city approval but there is one condition that must be met. The nude woman appearing on stage cannot move. To the prudish Londoners, nude dancing is obscene but posing still is art. The new review is a major hit and runs uninterrupted, even when the Nazi bombs rain down on London. The theater is underground and as good a shelter as any during the Blitz. The impact the show has on the morale of the British soldiers on leave in the city and destined to combat is inestimable. And, it is all done in good, if erotic, taste. (BTW, the movie is based on a real theater that ran a real nude review during Hitler’s assault on Blighty.) Dame Judi Dench, as the title character, gives a performance that the talented actress could have phoned in. She has played the feisty, single-minded rich woman before and, as such, does it, easily, well. Bob Hoskins has a bit more fun as the flamboyant and smart theater director, Van Damm, who stands up to his wealthy benefactor and won’t back from his principles. These are two strong performances in a somewhat slight film. The supporting cast is led by a good song-and-dance performance by Will Young as the ever ebullient and talented choreographer and star, Bertie. Christopher Guest appears, amusingly, as the droll but pliable Lord Cromer. Kelly Reilly is only OK as the stage review’s ingénue, Maureen. Techs are solid with both the overall look of the film and the numerous musical numbers having a good, old-fashioned sense reminiscent of the period. Costume and production design fit the bill nicely. Mrs. Henderson” will likely do best on home video, especially during the cold months of winter when the older crowd would rather stay home instead of braving the icy roads and snow to go to the theater.