Mission Statement From Christine Blundell On Mr. Turner

My working relationship with Mike Leigh spans 25 years. As many people know, Mike Leigh never has a script. Mike will improvise and workshop the actors to create the characters and their relationships. In order for the HODs to gather the information they need, we will then all sit down with Mike and the actor to discuss each character in depth. Mike’s guidance to me at the start of my preparation was that he simply wanted this film to feel like Turner’s “walk through life” with Turner gently getting older and more decrepit as the film progressed. Therefore all the ageing in the film had to be done very subtly.

The main challenge of this film was to create a journey through this 25-year period of Turner’s life that stayed completely seamless, despite the fact that – due to budget restrictions and location demands – we couldn’t always film chronologically. As with all Mike Leigh’s films, the budget level didn’t match the sheer ambition of the film, so we had a relatively miniscule budget to pull off 25 years of ageing on all of our principal characters.

Obviously with Mr. Turner we also had lots of factual reference to adhere to, especially where Turner and the other artists were concerned.

Timothy Spall
William Parrot's Turner on Vanishing Day 1846

William Parrot’s Turner on Varnishing Day (1846) © Museums Sheffield, alongside Timothy Spall as Turner on the Royal Academy set.

Mike was unconcerned with casting lookalikes of our historical characters but instead focused on creating characterisations that captured their ‘essence’.

Mary Somerville by Marry Dawson Turner
Lesley Manville as Mary Somerville

Mary Somerville by Mary Dawson Turner (after Thomas Phillips), (1830s) © National Portrait Gallery, alongside Lesley Manville as Mary Somerville

John Ruskin by Thomas Richmond II, (c.1841) © Ruskin Library, Lancaster University, alongside Joshua McGuire as John Ruskin.

Joshua McGuire as John RUskin
John Ruskin by Thomas Richmond II (c. 1841)
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In order to achieve Turner’s look I worked it into four different stages that would carry us through the film – which spans from when we join Turner in 1825 (then aged 50) until his death in 1851 (at 76).

Stage 1: A fuller wig with no grey and a healthy skin tone using a primer that had fine line minimizers. Some eye definition, darkened brows and sideburns

Stage 2: This was Tim as is, no wig, very little makeup

Stage 3: Small crown bald cap and wig, make-up to deepen lines with more work on eyes. Added in some grey brows and sideburns and some shading on face

Stage 4: Full top bald cap wig, teeth decay, eyebrows, add-ins on sideburns, stubble, broken veins latex, stipple ageing. As far as I could push the ageing with my greasepaint palettes!

More detail of the deterioration can be seen in these continuity shots of Stage 1 and 4:

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Turners hands were also very important

Turner’s hands were also very important. Not only were they always ingrained in pigment paint but Turner famously used his thumbnail to sculpt and scratch his artwork too so I made up some acrylic nails to look like a ‘nail tusk’.

Hannah Danby, Turner’s housekeeper, also had to age for the entirety of the film, with the added complication that she suffered badly from psoriasis, which gets worse and worse, and eventually takes over her. Lesa (my main assistant) and myself experimented with all sorts of things to get the psoriasis effect – we settled on using some pro bondo pieces with red flocking in and some shop bought gelatine and food stains to get the color variation and dryness.

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This continuity photo shows more detail of Tim and Dorothy in their ‘stage 3’ look.

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A more detailed continuity photo shows how Dorothy Atkinson’s make-up was gradually built up and enhanced.

Marion Bailey

Turner’s mistress, Mrs Booth – played by Marion Bailey – also had to age gently as the film progressed, which again we did with paintwork and ageing stipple.

Sarah Danby
Ruth Sheen

Other challenges included ageing Ruth Sheen, playing Turner’s former mistress Sarah Danby, who is seen briefly again after Turner’s younger daughter dies.

Music in the White Library

It was also a challenge achieving an authenticity of look throughout the supporting cast, who numbered over sixty. The guests at Petworth needed to have an air of refinement and sophistication – the grooming for both men and women was extensive.

Two close ups of the hair design for Alice Bailey-Johnson’s Young Lady Singer, and Turner’s own Petworth sketch, Music in the White Library.

Finally, with the ensemble set-ups, it was of the utmost importance to work with Mike and the actors to imbue the individual characters with different looks, yet continuously keep the correct level of period detail.