2017-07-07 07:23

What it's about:

1944. Tensions mount for beleaguered British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the days leading up to the infamous Allied D-Day landings in Normandy, France. Fearful of repeating his deadly mistakes from World War I’s Battle of Gallipoli, exhausted by years of war, plagued by depression, and obsessed with his historical destiny, Churchill is reluctant to embark on the large-scale campaign—one that the entire war effort hinges upon. Clashing with his Allied political opponents, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower and British Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, the troubled Churchill receives support and devotion from his wife, the brilliant and unflappable Clementine Churchill. With her strength and shrewdness, “Clemmie” halts Winston’s physical, mental, and spiritual collapse, and inspires him on to greatness.

What we thought:

There seems to be a surge in Churchill screen portrayals these days, both on the big one and the small one, but there’s a long filmography attached to one of the greatest Britons that ever lived, going back to when he was still in office. This means whoever takes on the role has to compete with all those that came before him, and in this year’s Churchill we get a stellar performance from movie veteran and Emmy-winner Brian Cox. He puts the ‘bull’ in bulldog with many a well-placed grunt and loud enunciated words, and though the story itself can be quite boring, Cox is the one that keeps the audience awake.

In this version, we follow Churchill during the days leading up to D-Day and his attempts to stop what he believed would be a massacre. His frustration is further fueled when he realises he’s being sidelined in the war council, and starts to butt heads with everyone in his way.

This film is about as British as they come, though South Africa gets a little screen-time in the form of our Jan Smuts as part of Churchill’s war council, played by TV veteran Richard Durden. Cox’s other supporting cast include Miranda Richardson as his fed-up wife, John Slattery as the annoyed General Eisenhower and Ella Purnell as his new secretary. Cox of course has a filmography that stretches all the way back to the 60s, so his pencil-sharp portrayal is flawless and dominates most of the film. Richardson got strangely aged up to be plausible as his wife, but I found the sharpness of her character to cut the wrong way. Purnell was the opposite, looking like a deer trapped in headlights, but she manages to redeem her performance during her climactic confrontation with Churchill, which is a thrilling scene by itself and almost feels out of sync with the weariness of the rest of the film.

This is not an easy film to sit through, as it basks in the hallmarks of slow art noir films where what is being said is more important than what is being done. At times Churchill is a breeze pretending to be a storm in the face of the stubborn war council, and in the end his misgivings are all for naught when D-Day is a success, and you somewhat feel like you wasted your time. Rather the focus is on him losing his grasp on his political influence and how it affects his relationship with those around him. In the film he’s not a pleasant man, and many other portrayals show similar characteristics, but Cox’s version feels more personable and fragile. 

Churchill is for those with a strong interest in British and World War history, and be prepared for long speeches and monologues, and just general grumpiness of an old man who isn’t getting his way. The film luckily does turn it into a story of a man haunted by past mistakes who feels like he isn’t being taken seriously. Churchill is more a theater piece than a film piece, and in that regard, it’s quite a good telling of a big piece of history, but in the short-attention-span film landscape it’s just another blip in the history section.

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