Along with fellow British veteran Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall, Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner (2014) will be in the running for the coveted Palme d’Or in the next fortnight. A biopic of Victorian painter J.M.W. Turner, the film stars Timothy Spall as the famed painter alongside Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey and Paul Jesson. Leigh’s previous foray into period drama produced the fascinating Topsy-Turvy (1999), a warts and all look at those other doyens of Victorianism, Gilbert and Sullivan. Leigh has had his share of triumphs at Cannes, picking up the Jury Prize for Naked in 1993 and winning the Palme d’Or three years after with Secrets and Lies (1996). It hasn’t all been plain sailing, however, as Vera Drake was passed over by Cannes in 2004, only to pick up the prestigious Golden Lion at rival fest Venice.
Leigh’s highly anticipated biopic Mr. Turner explores the last quarter century of the great if eccentric British painter J.M.W. Turner (played by Spall). Profoundly affected by the death of his esteemed father, loved by a housekeeper he takes for granted and occasionally exploits sexually, he forms a close relationship with a seaside landlady with whom he eventually lives incognito in Chelsea, where he dies. Throughout all this, Turner travels, paints, stays with the country aristocracy, visits brothels, is a popular if anarchic member of the Royal Academy of Arts, has himself strapped to the mast of a ship so that he can paint a snowstorm, and is both celebrated and reviled by the public and by royalty. Mr. Turner also stars actors Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson Lesley Manville and Tom Wlaschiha.
In one of those strange coincidences that international film festivals often throw up from time to time, Leigh and Loach – the two living giants of British social realist drama – will actually be going head-to-head in the less familiar territory of period drama. One thing that seems certain, however, is that both directors – with their excellent reputations on the continent and their fine filmmaking pedigree – are going to be serious contenders for Cannes’ top prize this time around.
Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner will be released in UK cinemas on 31 October courtesy of Entertainment One UK.
The 67th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 14-25 May 2014. For more Cannes coverage, simply follow this link.