If you've ever loved a terrible person, Mike Leigh's quietly sensational Mr. Turner -- a biopic, of sorts, covering the last 25 years of the life of the great 19th-century British painter J.M.W. Turner -- is the movie for you. Human beings don't figure largely in Turner's work, particularly in the later years of his career; when they appear at all, they're often small, blurred figures at the mercy of sky and sea.
As a person, Turner tended toward eccentricity and solitude. And as played by Timothy Spall, he isn't the sort you'd necessarily want to cuddle up to. Only occasionally does he use actual words to communicate. More often, he makes his feelings known using a vast vocabulary of grunts and growls that emerge from the depths of his throat.
He appears, at first, to care little for human beings except on those rare occasions when he needs them: His housekeeper Hannah (Dorothy Atkinson) welcomes his gruff sexual advances, even though he treats her thoughtlessly. A mysterious and rather angry woman (Ruth Sheen) appears at his door with her two daughters -- who, it turns out, are also his daughters -- to show him his first grandchild. He grunts at the little cherub in her white bonnet, wanting nothing to do with her.
But only at first: A few minutes later, he comes around to admire the infant in all her powder-pink glory, albeit in a rather businesslike way. This is less your standard-issue biopic than a foray into the mystery of human feeling.