Jonathan Teplitzky (director)
16 June 2017 (released)
17 June 2017
The images of blood in lapping waves and people standing next to massive columns are striking, if clumsy. But there’s a lot of that sort of thing in Churchill which relates the story of the allies preparations for D Day. The infighting between Churchill, his staff, Montgomery and Eisenhower, as they prepare to take the decision to launch the invasion of France in June 1944.
This Churchill is no longer the great speechmaker and leader; a borderline alcoholic and depressive; a shade, fading almost to irrelevance and set to one side by political and military decision-makers. He is though tormented by the disaster of Gallipoli in 1915, and fears they are looking at a similar disaster, he attempts to stop the invasion.
The title could give the impression that this a biography of Churchill when it is actually a dramatization of the pre D-Day preparations, and so very narrow in scope. And that is a problem (amongst many). Had this film been titled anything else then the pressure could have been lifted off the actor. As such it is directly on Brian Cox’s shoulders and he is found wanting in the role. This is a difficult role, about a complex man, and one of the titans of world history. Many fine actors have tried, with varying degrees of success to play him. Cox is a fine actor but in this case, he’s just not right for this role.
There’s a lack of subtlety, coming across very one dimensional, almost permanently angry, frustrated, almost deranged. It’s also at times a grind; when he starts ranting he is shrill, like nails down a blackboard. This is softened slightly by his wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson) who knows him well and can temper his outbreaks such as when he gets the hump with his new secretary when she doesn’t know what he means by a ‘klop’ (hole-punch).
Richardson’s is a measured reassuring performance and had the film concentrated more on their relationship, and reeling in Cox, it may have worked better. It’s not just Cox though, the whole cast seems to feeding off Jack Nicholson’s courtroom scene chewing from a Few Good Men. So there’s a lack of flow and is a series of stagey, stodgy stand offs between politicians and the military, interspersed by words of wisdom from Clementine.
Undoubtedly there were massive egos and reputations at play, and on the line, at that time, but this testosterone drenched posturing just buries the genuinely intriguing politics, personal manoeuvring and motives of the main players.
It’s not helped by a script - no matter how accurate it is by historian Alex von Tunzelmann – that is weak and clunky coupled with unimaginative direction by Jonathan Teplitzky, and a rich syrupy score by Lorne Balfe, Churchill is pretty dull stuff, and you’ll be looking at him sipping his endless spirits with envy and want.