6 Hours before the invasion of Normandy, is where we set our scene. The eponymous “Churchill” (Brian Cox) is the final person unwilling to sign off the Normandy invasion and relinquish the military control to Dwight Eisenhower (John Slattery); fearful and haunted by failures that drove English forces back home. Director Jonathan Teplitzky and writer Alex von Tunzelmann have squashed three months of diplomacy, and military strategic deliberations and altered the legacy of Winston Churchill. This painfully un-cinematic character study, turns assassination taking the bold figure and reducing him to a panicked, doubtful man crumpling under the immense pressure of defending England.
There’s definitely merit in reappraising history, particular from different perspectives that aren’t written in the congratulatory affirmations of the victors, but there’s something extremely disingenuous in taking months and collapsing them into hours. Writer Alex von Tunzelmann sets out to condense an emotional rollercoaster over hundreds of days and the success of a seemingly unending conflict in the balance on a coordinated allied push into the European continent; and fails. The result is a stream of in-fighting between British armed forces and bureaucrats, inter party bickering, posturing with royalty and demands for guaranteed outcomes with military partners; essentially politics over desire.
In a recent appraisal of Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” I attempted to examine the emergence of a slew of screen texts that find themselves rendering a vision of this slice of modern British history. The conclusion, perhaps, is that we’re longing for a time where diplomacy and negotiations with allies was paramount. It’s harder to determine the purpose with “Churchill.” The film leaves you with a sense that their subject benefits from the circumstance of braver and bolder men.
Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky, filmmaker behind “Burning Man” and “The Railway Man” is severely handicapped in budget in “Churchill.” Teplitzky is known for a vibrant visual style. “Burning Man” has the flame grilled pop of an industrial kitchen; “The Railway Man” sizzles in tropical heat and mud during soul crushing POW flashbacks, and has a chilling cold of men haunted with torture. “Churchill” does its best to dance around specific timeless and barely identifiable outdoor locations and bland interiors; it becomes obvious that they cannot afford the period, and are resolute for ‘adequate.’
The wonderful Brian Cox relishes taking the reins of the bulldog “Churchill.” There are some highlights where you see him seethe with an intensity resembling the legendary figure. Cox leans into that theatrical element of the character. It’s the portrayal of the man’s frailty at the height of his power in this manipulative way that skews the performance into a mania. Cox’s performance suffers further from the lengthy contrasting performance of John Lithgow’s Churchill in Netflix’s “The Crown.” The award winning, unflinching rumination on the flawed political giant is allowed the space to contextualise the grit and the deep flaws. On the cinema screen he’s emerging months before Gary Oldman’s inhabitation in director Joe Wright’s forthcoming “The Darkest Hour.” John Slattery’s Dwight Eisenhower is such a no nonsense masculine figure that Cox’s performance reverberates in a kind of echo chamber - their exchanges are like watching someone playing table tennis against the table. Miranda Richardson enlivens Clementine Churchill, emphasising her support and care to maintain her husband's momentum.
“Churchill” is to its subject what the “The Green Berets” was to the Vietnam War. “Berets” attempted to make a World War Two heroic propaganda in the wrong war. “Churchill” wants to humanise the man and instead devolves into a blatantly misleading revisionist history.
"Churchill" (2017) Review
Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Writer: Alex von Tunzelmann
Brian Cox - Winston Churchill
Miranda Richardson - Clementine Churchill
John Slattery - Dwight Eisenhower
Ella Purnell - Helen