In the late 1820s, landscape painter J.M.W. Turner (Spall) returns from Belgium to the London home he shares with his aged father (Jesson) and his housemaid and sometime lover Hannah (Atkinson). Assuming a pseudonym, he rents a room in a cottage in the coastal town of Margate, where the light and seascapes enthrall him. His work begins to evolve from classical representational to proto-impressionism, which confounds the members of the stuffy Royal Academy of Arts.
Working in his highly researched style (with the script evolving through an improvisational process), Director Leigh continues to craft lived-in, detailed performances from his familiar stable of actors. Spall is magnificent as the taciturn artist, a man whose extreme talent was matched only by his lack of social graces. He was awarded the best actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival for this career-defining role. Each scene is as beautiful as the last, with cinematographer Dick Pope capturing the magical light and expanse of nature that so clearly inspired Turner.