In Praise of Timothy Spall

As Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner has hit the Cannes Film Festival staring Timothy Spall as the title role as the controversial and hugely influential Romantic artist, it is worth spending a bit of time discussing why Timothy Spall is worthy of a great deal of attention as we take a short trip through his life and his career.

Timothy Spall is working class through and through as he is the son of a hair dresser and a postal worker in London who successfully secured a place within the National Youth Theatre before moving on to The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) where he was awarded the Bancroft Gold Medal for showing the most promise out of all of the actors in his year.

This level of classical training prepared Spall for the two years that he spent working with the Royal Shakespeare Company, a highly prestigious British Theatre Company which has had the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Derek Jacobi, and Sir Ian McKellen within its ranks!

It can be argued that Spall’s time as a stage actor is what really makes him a fantastic screen actor, as many the characters that people have come to love, such as Beadle Bamford in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet, Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter films, and Simon Graham in The Last Samurai, are incredibly theatrical in the sense that they ludicrous caricatures that are played with painful accuracy and humour, despite the fact that some of them are dark and grotesque as Spall really gets hands on with the physical performances, especially as Pettigrew, the rat-like traitor who betrayed Harry’s parents. It moves his acting from superb delivery and diction into a different field entirely as he seems to work each of his characters to their full potential.

Now, this is not Timothy Spall’s first outing with Mike Leigh, and hopefully it will not be the last as the two of them have successfully demonstrated that they gel well together with classics such as Life is Sweet under their belt which has Spall playing the socially awkward and often destructive self-confessed mastermind of cooking, Aubrey back in 1990. His character is well remembered for his unintentional humour and pseudo accent that he has as he decorates his restaurant in bizarre ways to appear up-market. Leigh and Spall manage to evoke humour in tragedy, as poor Aubrey descends into drunkenness because nobody has turned up on opening night due to him forgetting to post the adverts, resulting in some of the best depressing drunkenness that you can ever hope to see captured on film, all with unintentional hilarity.

It would seem as though the Spall family has acting in their blood, as Timothy’s Son, Rafe Spall has become quite a notable actor is his own right as he has appeared in such films as Anonymous as William Shakespeare, and Millburn in Ridley Scott’s stunning Prometheus which is excellent, regardless of what some might say as they complain that it wasn’t the Alien prequel they were waiting for (sigh). Rafe has also appeared in stage productions such as John Gabriel Borkman by Henrik Ibsen, which raises the question as to whether or not preparing on the stage makes you better on screen.

Whether this is true or not, Timothy Spall has won a number of awards for his acting, including Best Actor at the Monaco International Film Festival for his role in My Angel in 2011, and he has been nominated for several more awards such as Best Actor at the BAFTA Awards, The British Independent Film Awards, and the European Film Awards.

It seems that Timothy Spall’s career is on an upward curve, and after his recent performance in Mr Turner, which has been heralded as a ‘career-making performance’, where Spall even took to learning how to pain in order to perfect the role, which may bring a lot of attention in terms of awards towards both Mike Leigh and Timothy Spall this year. Spall’s performance as JMW Turner in the ground breaking biographic has a tremendous amount of promise and you should check it out as soon as you can.