Loving Vincent review: a beautifully textured tribute to Van Gogh

Dir: Hugh Welchman, Dorota Kobiela. Cast: Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan, Jerome Flynn, Aidan Turner, Helen McCrory, Eleanor Tomlinson, John Sessions, Chris O’Dowd, Robert Gulaczyk. 12A cert, 93 mins 

The fact that every frame of Loving Vincent was oil-painted, in a process that took six years, would be remarkable enough in itself. But painted to look exactly like the work of Vincent van Gogh? That’s something else. Corn fields shimmer and rustle with slight flickers of the impasto. The night sky sparkles and swirls. And faces – even the recognisable ones of a noted British cast – pose for a set of portraits that are rarely short of captivating.

The directors are British animator Hugh Welchman and his wife Dorota Kobiela, a Polish-born artist. They worked with 125 artists to paint the film’s 65,000 individual frames, inspired in each sequence by specific van Gogh paintings. Footage was shot of the cast playing out scenes on rudimentary sets, then this was projected on to canvases, frame by frame, and painted over. The visual effect is overwhelming, a luxurious immersion in the palette and environment of a celebrated artist.

The script is somewhat more down-to-earth, with the occasional feel of a biographical walk-through that you might hear acted out on a museum tour. Van Gogh himself is the mystery at the bottom of it, rather than the central figure. It’s set a year after his death, with family friend Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), who has been sent by his father (Chris O’Dowd) to deliver a letter to Vincent’s brother Theo, trying to puzzle out the artist’s state of mind when he died. Addressed is the theory that van Gogh may not have taken his own life, but been shot by a disturbed teenage boy.

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