DE GAULLE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Gabriel le Bomin

Stars: Lambert Wilson, Isabelle Carre, Philippe Laudenbach, Tim Hudson, Olivier Gourmet, Clemence Hittin, Nicolas Vaude.

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This earnest and reverential biopic has been released to mark the 130th anniversary of the birth of Charles De Gaulle, the French war hero and the symbolic leader of the French Resistance movement during WWII, who was President of France from 1958-1969. The film has been directed by Gabriel le Bomin (Beyond Suspicion, etc), a filmmaker who seems to specialise in historical dramas.

This film though is not a detailed biopic about the man and his life, but rather it is an encapsulation of a brief period of WWII history that established his reputation. In this aspect it is more like films such as the recent Churchill biopic Darkest Hour (with Gary Oldman in his Oscar winning role) and the 2016 Norwegian drama The King’s Choice as it similarly depicts the choices made by the central character that shaped his country during a period of crisis at the outbreak of the war.

The film mainly focuses on that period of May and June 1940 when the French political leaders tried to decide on the best option of dealing with the German army that had invaded France with their superior numbers and technology. Marshal Petain (played by Philippe Laudenbach) wanted to appease the Germans to save Paris from destruction, while De Gaulle urged them to fight on. De Gaulle was a soldier who had won a successful battle against German forces, and as a result had just been promoted to a cabinet position. He clashed openly with other cabinet members. Recently elected President Reynaud (Olivier Gourmet) remained uncommitted.

At the behest of Reynaud, he flew to England to negotiate with Prime Minister Churchill (played here by Tim Hudson) and try to win his support to continue the struggle against the Germans. De Gaulle established a government in exile, and broadcast patriotic speeches from the BBC into France to inspire the resistance movement, which helped to establish him as the legitimate leader of the Free French movement. But the Vichy government of France declared him a traitor. After the war he participated in settlement and peace talks along with allies like Britain and the US.

Bomin has co-written the script with Valerie Ranson-Enguilae (her first feature film script), but it is rather pedestrian in nature and doesn’t provide a lot of insight. De Gaulle is populated with lots of real-life historical figures including Petain and Reynaud and Churchill, although one suspects that they have taken some liberties with these characters for dramatic effect.

Le Bomin juggles two main narrative strands throughout the film. The other main narrative strand here follows De Gaulle’s loyal and devoted wife Yvonne (Cesar award winner Isabelle Carre, from Moving On, etc) who has taken the family to the relative safety of Brittany while De Gaulle flies to England. But when that area is threatened by the Nazis, she and her family flee, boarding a ship and sailing to England. But this is a perilous journey due to the presence of German bombers and submarines. This subplot brings plenty of tension and suspense to the material and is far more interesting to watch than the political discussions and the meetings between De Gaulle and Churchill.

De Gaulle was a complex character, and Lambert Wilson (The Translators, etc) portrays him with a square jaw and a steely determination. But those scenes in which he shares some time with his family and in particular his youngest daughter Anne (Clemence Hittin), who suffers from Downs Syndrome, show a more compassionate, warm and human side to the warrior and politician. Carre is convincing as Yvonne, a strong and resilient woman. Hudson brings a different take to the character of the larger-than-life cigar chewing and bombastic Churchill.

The period detail reeks of authenticity, and the film has been nicely shot by cinematographer Jean-Marie Dreujou (The Girl On The Bridge, etc).

★★☆

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