NYFF: Mike Leigh and Dick Pope Begin Oscar Preparations with 'Mr Turner'
Saturday, October 4, 2014 at 9:00PM
Glenn Dunks in Cinematography, Dick Pope, Mike Leigh, Mr Turner

It wasn’t just the obvious reasons relating to being a fan of William Turner that made Mike Leigh want to make Mr. Turner. No, what it essentially boiled down to for the British director and his long-gestating passion project was that, essentially, Turner was a clear-cut case of “a Mike Leigh character”. Hearing Leigh describe the famed artist this way actually made me go back and think about the role given that Turner, as portrayed by Timothy Spall in his Cannes-winning performance, hardly comes off as from the same working class terrain of Leigh’s most famous films like Secrets and Lies or Another Year.

I’m still not entirely sure how the statement holds, but the press conference that followed Friday afternoon's screening of Leigh’s lush, gorgeously produced 150-minute biopic did allow for some typically keen insight from the man and his cast and crew who will surely be out there campaigning for the film throughout awards season hoping to crash an already strong roster of British biopics with style and grace typical of a Leigh movie.

A question about the film’s comically foppish representation of Victorian era art critic John Ruskin proved an interesting history lesson with Leigh hailing him as “the first modern critic of the time”. I appreciated the extra illumination that was given towards the character played by Dorothy Atkinson who described her character’s history being based on facts and that her disfiguring skin condition would “frightening people when she opened to door to let them in”. Most surprising was when Spall spoke of how he took painting lessons in the two-and-a-half years between being asked to do the project in 2010 and when finally the production go the funds. Adding:

I got quite heavily into the whole process of all that, and I was taught by a brilliant guy and portraitist called Tim Riley who took me through all the disciplines up to the point where I was able to do a full-size copy of a Turner painting… I couldn’t do it then, but I managed to do it then.

If viewers of Mr. Turner are like me then they’re most be taken by the film’s cinematography by Dick Pope, who I have a hard time believing won't snag his second Oscar nomination come January. The work, painterly and beautiful, reminded me a lot of Girl with a Pearl Earring in the way the work of the film's subject was transformed into moving images on the cinema screen.

Hearing Pope discuss his and Leigh’s method for capturing the gorgeous images was filled with wonderful bonmots of information about the craft that can only be admired and respected. He better get used to talking about it since he'll be doing quite a bit of it.

It was less reproducing the work, more evoking the spirit of what he was looking at, what he was seeing, what inspired him. What drove him, drove us. We studied together, Mike and I, everything we shot and decided when we were going to be there at what time of the day. We were blessed with wonderful weather last year when we made the film, when we shot it. This fantastic summer. … A lot of people have come up to me and said, ‘That’s CG, isn’t it?’ – like hell it is [the crowd laughs wildly]. ... The other thing to say about the visuals is that I studied Turner’s palate quite a lot at The Tate where they have fantastic resources for everything on Turner, about the paints he used. So we took that. In a way, the film is colored, the colorization of the film, is very much in the palate of what Turner was using at the time.

Mr. Turner won't make it's way into cinemas until late December, but Mike Leigh will give a free 60-minute talk sponsored by HBO at NYFF tomorrow, Sunday the 5th, at 2.30pm.

Article originally appeared on The Film Experience (http://thefilmexperience.net/).
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