LONDON — Mike Leigh is set to helm a film about British painter J.M.W. Turner, reuniting him with regular collaborator Timothy Spall.

“Turner as a character is compelling,” said Leigh. “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.”

The film will see Leigh employ his usual method of close collaboration and improvisation with his actors to explore the world of the pioneering artists, a controversial figure in the early 19th century.

The project will be produced by Georgina Lowe through Leigh’s Thin Man Films and by Xofa Productions.

Focus Features International will handle worldwide sales for the untitled project, which the company is co-financing with the BFI Film Fund and broadcaster Film4. Sales for the film will commence at Cannes in May.