Turner Biopic Bought by Sony, Gains Access to Tate, Royal Academy, and National Gallery


The forthcoming biopic about artist Joseph Mallord William Turner, which director Mike Leigh first expressed an interest in making in 2010 and in which actor Timothy Spall recently signed on to star, has also gained the interest of Sony Pictures Classics, Deadline reports. The studio has acquired the rights to distribute the film in North America, Latin America, and Eastern Europe.

Leigh is scheduled to begin shooting the as-yet untitled film imminently, with a release date sometime in 2014. In addition to the international distribution deal with Sony, he has been granted access to the many Turner paintings in the collections of the U.K.’s National Gallery, Tate Britain, and the Royal Academy.

The National Gallery’s Turner holdings consist of 10 paintings, mostly seascapes, while the Royal Academy has far more extensive Turner holdings, including dozens of drawings, etchings, and his traveling watercolors case. Tate Britain’s collection of Turner’s work is similarly extensive, spanning small sketches and studies to some of his most iconic landscape paintings, and the self-portrait he painted at age 24 (above).

“Turner as a character is compelling,” Leigh explained in a statement quoted by Deadline. “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.”

— Benjamin Sutton

(Image: Detail from Joseph Mallord William Turner, “Self-portrait,” circa 1799; Courtesy Tate, via Wikipaintings.)