All the critics love the Mike Leigh film ‘Mr Turner’, but I thought it was an ugly film about an ugly man. But I have now come to think that it is a work of flattery. It systematically pushes the view that Turner was an ordinary man with ordinary failings, and wants us to love him in spite of all his faults.
But this is only a partial view of him. He was also a genius, who painted extraordinary canvases, impressive and striking still after all these years. There was nothing much about this in the film, which was mostly lowlife and ordinary. You would be hard put to it to find much in this film about ecstatic pictures which force the viewer to say – “Wow!”
So I would call this a work of flattery, allowing and indeed encouraging the viewer to think that Turner was not so different from us, really. But he was different from us. He inhabited, at times, a world far removed from us. He saw things we could never see, he actually portrayed visions of the eternal, of the spiritual, of the supernal. He did indeed inhabit our everyday world, but he also inhabited a world far removed from ours, a world of extraordinary vision and command, which made him the artist we still think important and revelatory today. This was not in the film. Perhaps it would make him too different. Perhaps he would then be unsympathetic. Perhaps he would show us up for the worms we are. Who knows?

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