“Mr. Turner,” Mike Leigh’s cinematic portrait of the innovative British painter J.M.W. Turner, takes place in the early 19th century. And while Dick Pope’s cinematography is stunningly beautiful in its naturally lit vistas, you also sense the rot beneath the surface.
“Nothing is too shiny,” Pope says. “We got down and dirty with fingernails and general level of hygiene. Period films can look too glossy, and it’s a mistake, really — a trap to fall into.”
Pope and company were blessed with weather that produced the kind of skies Turner was known for, from tumultuous to languid, drenched in fiery yellows, mauve and salmon pink. “We filmed the landscape in such a way that it gave you the idea of why he wanted to paint it,” the d.p. explains. “That was more important than trying to approximate his canvasses.”
Pope shot digitally using an Arri Alexa, but with vintage lenses to give the images texture. “It doesn’t in any way look electronic,” he says. “The lenses (soften) the digital, and give it more of a period feel.”
The one license Pope took was colorization that drew from Turner’s palette. “(Turner) used quite a lot of yellow in his highlights on the landscapes, and quite a lot of teal and blue-green in the shadow areas,” Pope says. “We added those colors to the shadows and the highlights. It affects the landscape but it doesn’t affect the skin tone. It gave the feeling of his work without trying to emulate his work.”