In his new movie, Mike Leigh recalls artist JMW Turner’s established later years, with help from Timothy Spall (The Love Punch, Secrets & Lies, Harry Potter) who, via carefully-timed grunts, snorts and swagger, beautifully captures the eccentric, abrasive, loving yet pitiless painter.
Set in the late 19th century, in the midst of the industrial revolution, Leigh’s Mr. Turner was filmed in Cornwall rather than the painter’s beloved Margate – the setting of many of his moody seascapes.
“We didn’t build anything,” explains location manager Henry Woolley, “The way Mike [Leigh] works is that he films on location entirely. It was literally as it was,” he explains. “The Margate element of the film was filmed in twin villages Kingsand and Cawsand in Cornwall, on the border of Devon.
“It wasn’t that we didn’t want to film in Margate,” he says, but Margate’s landscape has dramatically changed since Turner’s day, and the filmmakers were worried it wouldn’t reflect the period of the film. “It just wasn’t feasible to film here. For one thing there’s a great big Turner Gallery, which is amazing, but it’s a modernist building. It’s a busy seafront area, on a main road, and we needed somewhere that we could have an element of control.”
The production team decided on more rural pastures to depict Turner’s distinguished landscapes. Woolley reveals where fans of the film can relive film scenes and the essence of Turner’s works…
Petworth House and Park, West Sussex
“This still holds a Turner collection and is the place that Turner visited in the film and during his day,” explains Woolley. “It still is as it was. Lord and Lady Egremont own Petworth House and are Turner patrons. The big house features in the film, when Turner is listening to the piano recital and there are lots of artists rollicking around. The art is still hanging where it would have been in Turner’s day when Egremont commissioned him. The works are owned by the Tate Gallery but are permanently exhibited in the house, which is a National Trust property and can be visited by the public.”
Llangollen Railway, Wales
“There’s a Turner painting called Rain, Steam and Speed, which is believed to have been painted at Maidenhead Railway,” explains Woolley. “We sourced an old locomotive and took it to a track in Wales to recreate this scene. Sadly, the actual bridge in Maidenhead is now a city thoroughfare. Turner sees this scene in the movie when he’s on one of his walks in Margate. He was always observing things, this was the beginning of industrialisation, and the beginning of steam, and he was on the cusp of that.”
Kingsand and Cawsand, Cornwall
“The Margate element of the film was filmed in these twin villages,” says Woolley, “They’re just across the bay from Plymouth, it’s a very lovely spot. We shot inside the houses you see the exteriors of, and it’s real sea, although in one of the shots it looks almost too real. The weather was sensational, it looks almost Mediterranean. It looks like we added the sea in, which we didn’t at all. It was a long hot summer and the sun didn’t stop shining. The cliff edge where Spall’s Turner walks is around 10 minutes away at Rame Head. We looked at which great landscapes would represent the paintings and the light.”
Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire
“The Royal Academy of Arts [where the painters gathered and displayed their works] would have been at Somerset House back in the day, but Somerset House has changed and we couldn’t really do what we needed to do there,” explains Woolley, “Instead we shot the gallery at Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire. It’s a very historic house, and it’s open to the public.”
“Turner’s former London home is on Cheyne Walk, on the north Embankment of Thames. Although you’re not allowed in, it still has a blue plaque on it to mark the artist,” says Woolley. “This is where Turner ended up with Mrs Booth,” recalls Woolley. “His other house, where he lived with his cleaner was on the corner of Queen Anne Street and Harley Street, but there is no plaque on this one.”