Director Mike Leigh’s movie follows the last 25 years of the prolific early-19th-century British seascape painter J.M.W. Turner (Timothy Spall), when he courts a lover, rejects another, and helps lay the foundations for impressionism. Before playing the role, Spall spent two years brushing up on his painting skills. ”I came to the conclusion that by the end of it, I could paint as well as Turner could when he was about 8,” says Spall, who’s probably best known as Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter series. ”He wasn’t half bad when he was 8.” Though he couldn’t quite match Turner’s artistry on canvas, Spall did win the best-actor prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for his portrait of the artist.