(Corrects garble in fifth paragraph, and name of Leigh film in
last paragraph to "Secrets and Lies")
* Tumultuous J.M.W. Turner film seen most likely to win
* Film earns raves at world's largest cinema showcase
By Mike Davidson
CANNES, France, May 19 British director Mike
Leigh says he was "terrified" at the prospect of capturing the
scope and subtlety of a Turner painting in a film.
But his cinematic portrait of the life of the artist known
for his sweeping seascapes is an early favourite to win the
Cannes Film Festival's top prize, the Palme D'Or.
Screen International's survey of critics published on Monday
tipped "Mr Turner" for the prize, just ahead of Turkish director
Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Winter Sleep."
"It's a tough subject for a film," Leigh said in an
interview with Reuters TV.
"I mean, to make a film about what to some people is an
obscure 19th century painter, to make such a film without
compromise. I mean we haven't had to Hollywood-ize it in any way
and it is an independent picture."
Leigh is known for a style of working that is grounded in
theatre, with no script at the start of the process, lengthy
rehearsals and improvised dialogue.
"Mr Turner" has earned great reviews from critics, who have
praised its Dickensian feel, its ability to wordlessly express
domestic turmoil, and its underlying themes of class
consciousness and the nature of art.
Reviewers have also lauded a masterful performance from
Timothy Spall as the cantankerous and grunting J.M.W. Turner.
Leigh typically casts character actors little recognised
outside Britain and he said opting for more Hollywood actors in
his cast "would be a complete disaster".
"People have said, 'Well, if you have a Hollywood star, an
A-list star, we'll give you as much money as you like,'" he
said. "But, I want my Timothy Spall to play Turner, and not a
bunch of other people who would be profoundly unqualified."
A win would be the second Palme d'Or for Leigh, who won for
"Secrets and Lies" in 1996. Eighteen films are competing for
prize, which will be given on Sunday, including Mauritanian
director Abderrahmane Sissako's "Timbuktu" and "The Search" from
French director Michel Hazanavicius.
(Writing by Alexandria Sage, Editing by Angus MacSwan)