Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Stars: Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, Julian Wadham, Richard Durden, James Purefoy, Ella Purnell.
Winston Churchill is one of the most famous British Prime Ministers of the twentieth century, who inspired and led his people through the dark days of WWII. He is regarded by many as one of the greatest British leaders of the twentieth century. Much has been written about him and his achievements. Richard Attenborough’s 1972 biopic Young Winston gave us some insights into his early years and the experiences that shaped him. This biopic from Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky (The Railway Man, etc) is one of two biopics about Churchill to be released this year – the other being Darkest Hour, which stars Gary Oldman as the PM in the early days of the war, which is due for release in November.
Written by first time feature film writer, historian Alex Von Tunzelmann, the film is not a hagiography. Indeed, it takes a slightly different path, demystifying the revered leader. This film gives us a more intimate portrait of Churchill and explores his inner turmoil during the 96 hours leading up to the D-Day invasion of Europe in June 1944.
Tunzelmann and Terplitzky show us a Churchill consumed by doubts, haunted by past mistakes and the bloody failure of the Gallipoli campaign thirty years earlier, and tormented by his own personal war experiences. He opposes the plans for the Allied landings on the beaches of France, believing that Operation Overlord will lead to a massive loss of life. He clashes with General Eisenhower (played by Mad Man’s John Slattery), the architect of the plan, and his own commander Field Marshall Montgomery (Julian Wadham).
Churchill wants to remain relevant but fears he is being ignored by his commanders and is being marginalised as the Americans begin to take control of the war effort. He receives counsel from his friend and personal aide Smuts (Richard Durden) and King George VI (James Purefoy). And his long-suffering but strong and no-nonsense wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson) is exasperated by Churchill’s pugnacious attitude and pigheadedness and constantly reminds him of his duty to inspire the British people. She reminds him that he is not fighting the war alone. And even his loyal, patient secretary Helen Garrett (Ella Purnell) dares to speak up at one point and put him in his place.
Tunzelmann used to review the historical accuracy of films, so one has to assume that her screenplay is full of historical detail. Even so, it is hard to discern where fact leaves off and the fiction and imagination takes over. The film depicts Churchill as a flawed man, a drunk and a demanding despot, exhausted by years of war and given over to bouts of almost crippling depression.
Brian Cox (who originally created the role of Hannibal Lecter in Michael Mann’s thriller Manhunter) is suitably jowly and bombastic in the central role of the gruff, cigar-chomping and hard drinking Churchill. He immerses himself in the role and delivers a solid performance that captures Churchill’s mannerisms and belligerent attitude. Apparently, he put on 20 pounds for the role. Richardson is also strong as the formidable Clementine, and provides a strong foil for the blustering behaviour of her husband.
This low budget film was shot on location in Scotland, and cinematographer David Higgs gives us some great visuals with the exterior scenes. Higgs worked with Teplitzky on the BBC mini-series Indian Summers, and visually he gives the interior scenes are bland look, almost reminiscent of a made for television movie. There is some good production design from Chris Roope (the tv miniseries War & Peace, etc) that brings Chruchill’s war room and offices to life.
Ultimately though, Teplitzky’s direction is rather low key, and Churchill lacks the feel of a cinematic event.