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Mike Leigh Will Make His Long-Planned Turner Biopic, Helped By Sony Pictures Classics

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood March 19, 2013 at 11:55AM

Mike Leigh is finally going to make his passion project, a biopic on painter J.W.W. Turner: "I want to explore the man, his working life, his relationships and how he lived. But what fascinates me most is the drama that lies in the tension between this driven eccentric and the epic, timeless world he evoked in his masterpieces."
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Mike Leigh
Mike Leigh

Sony Pictures Classics has snapped up all North American, Latin American and Eastern European rights to Brit auteur Mike Leigh's upcoming film, currently referred to as "Untitled Mike Leigh 13."

Leigh ("Another Year," "Happy-Go-Lucky," "Vera Drake"), who is a seven-time Oscar nominee, has been planning the project for over a decade. This passion project is by far his most ambitious film to date, a portrait of England's hallowed painter J.W.W. Turner. (Leigh expressed his hopes to make the film back at the 2008 Telluride Film Festival, saying at the time that no one would fund the film.)

Leigh also went period for his 1999 biopic, a delicious portrait of two artists at work, "Topsy-Turvy," starring Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner as Gilbert and Sullivan, respectively.

J.W.W. Turner's "Flint Castle"
J.W.W. Turner's "Flint Castle"

The director is reteaming with many cast and crew from his previous films, including Timothy Spall ("Secrets & Lies," "Topsy-Turvy"), who will play the lead, director of photography Dick Pope ("Another Year," among other Leigh titles) and makeup artist Christine Blundell (who won the Oscar for "Topsy-Turvy"). 

The National Gallery, the Tate Britain and Royal Academy are granting special access to some of Turner's paintings for the film.

Leigh states of his interest in the artist: 

"I want to explore the man, his working life, his relationships and how he lived.  But what fascinates me most is the drama that lies in the tension between this driven eccentric and the epic, timeless world he evoked in his masterpieces.  I also see rich tragic-comic potential in his often turbulent relationship with the English Art Establishment, especially in his later years, when his increasingly radical work was misunderstood and derided.”

The film is set to begin production this spring, with SPC eyeing a 2014 release.

This article is related to: News, Mike Leigh, Mike Leigh, News, Sony Pictures Classics


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.