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Mike Leigh will finally have a canvas for his J.M.W. Turner film

March 19, 2013|By Steven Zeitchik
  • Director Mike Leigh in New York in 2010.
Director Mike Leigh in New York in 2010. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles…)

There are few movies that famed British director Mike Leigh has wanted to see out in the world as much as his real-life story of British artist J.M.W. Turner.

Now it appears he'll get his wish. Sony Pictures Classics, the distributor that released the seven-time Oscar nominee's aging drama "Another Year" in 2010, has acquired U.S. and select other international rights to Leigh's new film about the artist. Leigh has been developing a Turner movie for more than a decade and aims to shoot this spring.

British actor Timothy Spall will play the Romantic painter in the untitled piece, which is due in theaters next year. Spall starred in "Topsy-Turvy," Leigh's Gilbert & Sullivan-themed film that, like the Turner pic, is a rare Leigh period work.

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In films such as "Secrets and Lies," "Another Year" and "Naked," Leigh pioneered a subgenre of realism-infused stories about ordinary people. Turner takes him into a different realm. But the filmmaker said he remains attracted to the human elements of the story.

"I want to explore the man, his working life, his relationships and how he lived. But what fascinates me most is the drama that lies in the tension between this driven eccentric and the epic, timeless world he evoked," Leigh said in a statement.

The National Gallery, Tate Britain and the Royal Academy will offer access to some of Turner's work for the film, the statement added.

An eccentric artist known for his early 19th-century images of natural landscapes and disasters, Turner left a considerable legacy as a leader of British Romantics. There's a kind of symmetry in Leigh, himself an at times single-minded and charmingly irascible figure, taking on a man who liked to stir the pot himself a few times.

Leigh has long wanted to make a Turner movie. In 2010, he told The Times that after several stops and starts, he was close to finally getting it done, but financing proved tricky.

"With 'Topsy-Turvy,' we were able to cut the budget by cutting the exteriors," he said. "You don’t make a film about Turner and cut the exteriors. This is a guy who strapped himself to the mast of a ship to paint a storm."


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