Brit director Mike Leigh is back with his latest Oscar nominated film, “Mr. Turner.” It follows the later years of English painter JMW Turner, portrayed by actor Timothy Spall.
While audiences may feel the need to review their art history textbooks to follow Turner’s changing brush strokes, anyone with skin will note the epidermal transformation of his housekeeper, Hannah.
As played by Dorothy Atkinson, Hannah is a loyal servant with an unrequited affection for Turner. In the course of the film, she is shown to have a rash initially seen on the nape of her neck. Gradually, the red scaly eruption spreads to her hands, face and scalp. She appears to have arthritis also, affecting her ability to walk. By the film’s finish, her sore-covered hands are wrapped in gauze, her face shrouded as she ambles in public.
What is this deforming dermatitis? While eczema, lupus, and leprosy can all cause extensive skin disease, psoriasis best suits the appearance and course of this rash. Psoriasis is a non-infectious inflammatory condition. It can be itchy and appears red with dry flaking scale. It often affects the scalp, appearing as an exaggerated form of dandruff. The face and hands may gradually become involved. Unlike eczema, joint stiffness and arthritis are commonly associated with psoriasis.
Today, anti-inflammatory treatments currently exist to reduce and limit this rash. None of this was available to Hannah in mid 19th century England. Imagine what Kim Kardashian would do without modern treatments to clear her skin? Would her Twitter followers tolerate blotchy blemishes?
Significantly, this depiction of Turner’s housekeeper is a sympathetic one. Unlike the scores of evil movie characters with problem skin, audiences empathize with Hannah. Ultimately, her deteriorating skin may represent the loss that Turner himself felt both with his declining health and with the changing taste of the art world. Leigh reminds us of the emotional and physical toll of this condition. The phrase, “the heartbreak of psoriasis” is well earned.
More examples of psoriasis at skinema.com