Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky.
Starring Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, James Purefoy, Julian Wadham, Danny Webb, Richard Durden and Ella Purnell.
Exhausted by years of war, the Allied forces plan an invasion of Normandy, but British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is not convinced!
In the days leading up to the invasion of Normandy, the headstrong Churchill (Brian Cox) is unconvinced that a full frontal attack will gain any leverage for the Allied forces, and the operation is a suicide mission.
The UK have recently put this much-loved British Prime Minister on their £5 note. Revered by many as a war hero the idea of bringing a flawed, hard-nosed version of Winston Churchill to the big screen is bold. Could Churchill be the antithesis to the lore? Alas, it plays out like a patriotic piece of propaganda, perpetuating the myth, and conveying Churchill as an incorrect, yet deeply passionate, old bean!
Brian Cox breathes life into the stilted dialogue to give Churchill a semblance of palpability. Through a series of exchanges with the Allied military personnel, with his patient yet stern wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson, who, like Cox, breathes life into her role), and with his secretarial staff, Cox and his co-performers try to save the film but the overwrought sentimentality comes to undermine it. Churchill is portrayed as a passionate, faux-martyr battling with his demons from his time in WWI, and conveyed through a series of ‘lone wolf’ tableaux’s of Churchill standing on a beach staring out to the unforgiving ocean, we’re clearly meant to feel something but the whole experience feels hollow, if not disingenuous.
As the Allied forces deliberate over this strategic, yet highly risky military assault, the stressed out, hot-headed Churchill puts up a fight. To make matters worse, Churchill is unwilling to listen; the potential idea of a revered historic figure proven wrong with the clarity of hindsight maybe woven into the fabric of the narrative, but is only ‘an idea’ as those closest to him (on the British side, of course) do little to demystify their stubborn leader. Some do question his motives and his pigheadedness, but like the ‘lone wolf’ moments it’s superfluous.
The other characters speak of Churchill as a great, yet troubled hero, as though they’re viewing him through contemporary eyes. Churchill behaves appalling to some, that look tolerate him too much; notably, his outbursts towards the young and loyal secretary Helen Garnett (Ella Purnell) would push even the most patient of employees. In short, Churchill was hero who got one thing wrong, and nothing more.
One scene that many cinephiles will reference later is the backstory of Garnett. To go into detail would lead to plot spoilers, but suffice it to say Purnell delivers a heartfelt monologue that is as dramatic of a directional shift as was the Santa Claus monologue from Gremlins.
Many scenes have this emotionally manipulative underscore, telling the audience how to feel about this scene or that, providing little room for audiences to question, or to dissect. Spoon-fed like Marvel films, this will tire audiences looking for an analysis of the icon, to peel away the public image to reveal, and understand, the private life.
Final thought: for a deeper, different, and an unflinching look on Winston Churchill, watch Horrible Histories – you may also learn a few things.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★ / Movie: ★★