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Impressions of Mr Turner: a film researcher’s view from books to screen

by Jacqueline Riding.

Timothy Spall and cast in Mr Turner.

On a sunny afternoon in December two years ago, the cast and crew of the film Mr Turner – then only known as Untitled 13 – gathered in central London for a read through. Only there was no read through, because there was no script.

Mike Leigh’s film-making process is intensive and collaborative, with character, action and dialogue gradually emerging from months of research, discussion and improvisation – and he told us that this method is broadly the same whatever the subject. It was a process that would develop over six months of rehearsals, and a four-month shoot.

At the initial stage there was a lot of reading (the books on JMW Turner alone can be measured by the yard), and site visits and dossiers to be created – of Turner’s family, partners, fellow artists, friends, patrons, associates – out of which the time span of the film is settled, themes and events are defined, characters are selected and actors cast.

We managed to get agreement from a large number of museums and galleries to use their images and selected hundreds of works that could be included in the set-piece reconstructions, such as Turner’s Queen Anne Street gallery and the magnificent 1832 Royal Academy summer exhibition. The next research stage was a sort of actors’ art/history boot camp, which happened alongside the actors’ sessions with Mike, because everything and anything that was read or experienced might find its way into the character, the scene and the dialogue.

Read the rest of this article from The Guardian.

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