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Mr Turner cinematographer Dick Pope up for an Oscar on Sunday

PUBLISHED: 15:06 20 February 2015 | UPDATED: 15:06 20 February 2015

Timothy Spall as the artist J.M.W Turner - © Entertainment One

Timothy Spall as the artist J.M.W Turner - © Entertainment One

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There is a moment in Mike Leigh’s film, Mr Turner, where the artist is painting before a window in Petworth House, West Sussex. It’s an extraordinary scene: there is Turner; there is his canvas; and there, through the window, is a living facsimile of his painting. It is a virtuoso visual moment.

Turner’s paintings are so venerated that it is a jolt to recall that his godlike genius had a mortal instrument.

Depicting the moment of inspiration is an ambitious enterprise, but the film gives the viewer the sensation of stepping into the pearlescent light of one of Turner’s paintings. Cinematographer Dick Pope, a Leigh collaborator since 1990, is up for an Oscar for Best Cinematographer. It was, said the film’s producer Georgina Lowe in an interview for the October issue of Sussex Life, a process of immersion for all the production team, which included production designer Suzy Davies, costume designer Jacqueline Durran and make-up artist Christine Blundell. As well referring to Turner’s paintings themselves, the production team was “really helped by so many wonderful experts at the Tate, the National Gallery, the Royal Academy, National Trust – everyone was extraordinarily helpful in facilitating research and opening doors to us.”

The production spent a week shooting at Petworth House, with the support of Lord and Lady Egremont. House and Collections Manager Andy Loukes, who curated last year’s exhibition, Turner’s Sussex, gave invaluable advice.

Petworth House provides the stage for around 15 minutes of the film’s action, contextualising the painter’s patronage by George Wyndham, third Earl of Egremont, who bought and commissioned 20 paintings from the artist which can still be viewed at Petworth. He had a huge interest in art and a number of artists visited his home regularly.

It was a “tremendous privilege” to film there, says Georgina. “It was quite humbling and I must admit I got goosebumps when we were up in the library, recreating the moment where Turner is painting and the other visitors are watching and asking questions with the window behind; just being in the space where he had been with reference to the painting. That was pretty special. You could feel his presence.”

In a tremendous boon for the production team, the National Trust has kept the house much as it would have been in Turner’s time. “Obviously we brought props in, but that was a huge advantage for us.”

Shooting in such a venerable building must be a fraught affair, I suggest: “We are very careful and you protect the floors, simple things like that, but we also had their team standing by to protect the precious things.” Georgina remembers with a frisson of nerves the scene where Turner sketches a musical soirée: “Dick Pope lit that evening scene with 175 candles…”

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