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Mr. Turner and “The sun is God!”

Bitter out there today and worse tomorrow – punishingly cold all over North America. A good day for taxicabs.

Yesterday, Eli and his mother visited. Here is my advice to grandparents of young children: acquire something called a Plasmacar. Ours was given to us by generous friend and former student Janice, along with a huge bag of clothing and books her kids had outgrown; it provided great joy last Xmas day and has continued to do so. It’s a stable four-wheeled contraption that’s strong and big enough for two – and my grandson decided yesterday that he wanted to play chauffeur. On his way into the living-room to get more books – “Come, Blamma,” he said, patting the back of the seat, and I lowered myself onto the back of the vehicle and he drove us into the living-room to get books, steering magnificently. Four times, four trips.

Getting off the Plasmacar was difficult. This is why I go to the Y, was my main thought as I struggled creakily to my feet. The best ride ever – being driven by my grandson from the kitchen to the living room, replete with vroom vroom and screeching brake noises made by Blamma. I wonder if one day I’ll embarrass him as I embarrassed my children. Let’s hope not.

Today I went (by cab, and not a Plasmacab) to see Mr. Turner. In 1981, when my ex-husband and I were newly together, a friend of his visited, a young British director writing a book about someone we’d never heard of called Mike Leigh, whose work in the theatre involved lengthy improvisations. Now Mr. Leigh is a film director of great and well-deserved esteem – his Vera Drake and Topsy-Turvy are wonderful films.

And so is this one – indisputably great, perhaps the most beautifully shot film I’ve ever seen, only right in a biopic about a master of light. It’s long, perhaps a shade too long though I can’t think of a scene I’d cut. And it’s odd in that it deals with a genius who is a rough snorting boor with few social graces who treats his wife and children and his housekeeper poorly. And yet also a sensitive, successful, respected man and a courageous, ground-breaking and hard-working painter. Fascinating.

The film provides a series of character studies, too, of names we know, like Constable and Ruskin, and others we don’t, like the crazed egotistical painter Haydon – all so real because Mike Leigh continues to improvise with actors, who are all as solid and comfortable in their roles as it’s possible for an actor to be.

For me, it’s a film about a golden age in England, just as the railway is arriving and the country is about to change forever. References to the slave trade and the Napoleonic wars, and a brief encounter with an unappreciative Victoria and Albert, situate us in historical time. The interiors are breathtaking and full of artifacts of British life I know my mother would have wept to see – vases, jugs, pewter plates and mugs, platters and dishes, she would have recognized them all. The countryside is a pastoral dreamscape, the seaside is so vivid you can smell the air and the fish – Britain of the early to mid-1800’s lovingly recreated, seamless, nothing out of place.

Confession: I’ve never liked Turner’s work – too wishy washy, all those filmy pink, brown and gold skies and seas. After the film, I still am not crazy about his paintings, but I understand much more about the man and his times. I loved this film.

PS Just saw that a dear friend I’ve not yet met, Theresa Kishkan, has also just posted a review of the film on her blog, to the left. As sensitive and thoughtful as ever, Theresa.



4 Responses to “Mr. Turner and “The sun is God!””

  1. theresa says:

    Amazing that we'd see the film (and it seems we saw the same film too, with the same sensibilities) on the same day!

  2. beth says:

    Well, not so amazing really, given that – despite the fact that you live in rural B.C. and I live in the middle of downtown Toronto – we have so much in common.

  3. Anonymous says:

    So looking forward to this film, it's had rave reviews here but alas has not made it up to my neck of the woods yet…but is available in rural Canada?!
    Timothy Spall is an amazing character actor, apparently spending months perfecting his painting technique and of course, Mike Leigh is renowned here for his semi improvised dramas (on TV), plays and films. Who can ever forget Abigail's Party?
    Turner's Fighting Temeraire adorned our living room wall for many years in the 70's until it's glorious muted colours faded to blue leaving me with a soft spot for the artist and the memories of that time he always invokes.(it was a print I hasten to add!)
    I had to laugh at the image of you crawling out of your grandson's car, I can hardly get out of bed the day after looking after my twin grandaughters….a lot of creaking and groaning whilst getting into an upright position! And I think they're keeping me young! Carole

  4. beth says:

    I'm sure those lovely girls are keeping you young, Carole, creaking notwithstanding. How lucky we are. You'll love the Turner film – it's spectacular. And the Fighting Temeraire has a role too.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

Some Blogs I Follow

Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.


Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.


I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.


Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.


Juliet in Paris, Spain and Beyond
Juliet is a Canadian who’s lived for decades in Paris and writes about her travels and the many things that interest her.