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UK's Mike Leigh cheered as Cannes race kicks off

CANNES, France -- Veteran British director Mike Leigh drew rapturous reviews Thursday for a lush historical portrait of painter JMW Turner as the race for gold kicked off at the Cannes Film Festival.

Timothy Spall, a character actor best known as Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter movies and Winston Churchill in “The King's Speech,” delivered a grunting, snorting, spitting, womanizing warts-and-all performance in “Mr. Turner” of the tortured Romantic landscape painter.

Both the daily Guardian and Time Out London gave the period drama a maximum five stars, calling the latest from the filmmaker behind “Vera Drake” and “Secrets and Lies” “extraordinary” and “a dazzling feat of confidence.”

David Ketchum, a contributor to industry bible Variety, posted on Twitter that “Mr. Turner” was “impeccably crafted, absolute cinematic perfection” while Nigel Smith of U.S. movie website Indiewire hailed the performances as “across the board magnificent.”

The biopic traces the life of the iconoclastic genius who infused his depictions of threatening skies and stormy seas with reflections of his troubled inner life.

The film starts with Turner, already a star of the early 19th century art world, living in convivial harmony with his ailing barber father in London, while treating the women in his life with contempt.

These include his neglected former mistress, their two daughters and his long-suffering housekeeper, whom he uses sexually when the mood strikes him.

He is a powerful member of the establishment who rubs shoulders with his aristocratic patrons and the fellow members of the Royal Academy while traveling where his muse takes him to capture the perfect light.

An eccentric of few words and enormous appetites, Turner communicates much of the time through guttural noises, a fact that Spall put down to his trouble putting his racing thoughts into words.

“He's got this burning, this burning thing inside him. So rather than say it, it's just (three grunts),” Spall told reporters.

But after the death of his father plunges him into depression, he begins spending more time on the Kent coast with a kindly twice-widowed woman, Mrs. Booth, who shows him the warmth he lacked in his own childhood from his “lunatic” mother.

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From left, actress Dorothy Atkinson, actor Timothy Spall, actress Marion Bailey and director Mike Leigh arrive for the screening of “Mr. Turner” at the 67th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Thursday, May 15. (AP)

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