CHURCHILL: A Fascinating Portrayal Of A Particularly Flawed Man
With poorly constructed flaws, Churchill isn’t an overly powerful reinvention of the traditional biopic film.
It’s clear to understand the reasons why a biopic based on a historical figure could cause concern amongst most audiences. But in the case of Jonathan Teplitzky’s latest creation Churchill, we thankfully see a story that steers clear of expected impersonations and over the top cliches.
The first sign of this is signalled almost immediately, when we learn that we’ve dived right into the heart of the action in terms of Winston Churchill’s reign. Unlike many stories depicting a factual world leader, or political figure, we aren’t forced to sit through a lifetime of depictions or encompass a purposely placed build-up that is nothing but unnecessary. Instead, we have the privilege of being propelled straight to a notoriously memorable place in time; a mere few days before the Normandy D-Day landings.
Something else that is another noteworthy difference here, and paves the way for uniqueness amongst conventional biopics, is that it is centred around Churchill’s behaviour and pressures surrounding one specific event, just as much as it is centred around his personal habits and character during the course of it. As such, it provides an intimate look into the mind of a man battling depression whilst simultaneously preparing for one of the most crucial battles of World War 2.
Churchill is set in 1944, in the weeks leading up to the combined American, British and other Allies re-invasion of Europe. It’s perhaps an area of history that the majority of us are somewhat foggy about, but in the absence of battle scenes and heroically devastating war illustrations, we are instead thrust into the eyes of historical facts.
The beauty of this is that our minds are opened to the gritty truth of the men behind the war. And this film shows that planning was well advanced, with General Eisenhower – played here by Mad Men‘s John Slattery – putting the final touches on a hugely ambitious and risky operation.
Alongside Eisenhower, General Montgomery (Julian Wadham) and the rest of the Allied command are cautiously confident that the plan they have devised is the best chance there is for liberating France and opening up a sustainable second European Front.
Against them, Winston Churchill (Brian Cox), haunted by the tragedy of Gallipoli in 1915, pleads with Eisenhower to change the plans. This is where the story truly unfolds. Unfortunately, there are instances where the film seriously flounders and lets go of this initially promising intensity.
Room For Improvements
Rightly, some historians have already criticised the film for the liberties it takes with historical fact, and are claiming that there are one too many incorrect twists conveyed in the film. This then becomes a debate on what is outright fact and what constitutes authorisation for artistic changes. In terms of the direction and the production, Teplitzky – who also directed The Railway Man – has done a truly terrific job and deserves credit for managing to find a balance between deconstructing Churchill and retaining the iconography surrounding him.
He provides countless opportunities for Brian Cox to fill the screen in a physically imposing style, while exercising his vocal prowess. Not only this, but there are numerous shots of the Prime Minister almost engulfed in plumes of cigar smoke that are perhaps metaphorical of the hazy fumes of war.
That being said, the film in general tends to be very slow, repetitive and monotonous for something that should be an exclusively gripping story. The most significant defect of the film however is its script. With a narrative like this that involves a great deal of scenes dominated by dialogue and little action, the script couldn’t afford to fall flat – which it unfortunately does.
With this in mind, it’s clear that the actors deserved a far more advanced and tension-fuelled screenplay with much more courageous language. It gets tired rather quickly, and had it not been for the towering performances of its stellar cast, the film itself could have proven to be a total flop.
Salvaged By The Main Man
Seeing such an infamous symbol brought to life on-screen is always a strange sensation, but it’s not always as precisely perfect as Brian Cox manages it.
He turns in a massively convincing and captivating shift that may even see him as an early contender for an Oscar nomination next year. Playing alongside him – and completely owning the airspace around Cox’s belligerent and aggressively theatrical Winston – Miranda Richardson dishes out a Clementine Churchill who lives and breathes in a far more convincing and human fashion than the script provides. As a cast in general, they were pretty much spot-on from the outset, and it would be particularly problematic to find any fault in the performances throughout.
However, there may be some competition on the horizon in this particular field as another movie portraying the surrounding notions of Churchill is set for release in November this year. In this instance, Gary Oldman will be taking to the role in The Darkest Hour; which is set to be one of the most prominent pieces of cinema this year. And with supporting roles from industry legends like Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn and the late, great John Hurt, we aren’t surprised at the early approving nods from critics.
There’s no doubt that cinema-lovers will be flocking to make the comparison between Oldman’s depiction of the main man versus Cox’s efforts. But after watching the latter’s performance in Churchill, it’s sure to be a competitively cut-throat contest.
Churchill isn’t necessarily edge-of-your-seat stuff, or an overly powerful reinvention of the traditional biopic like Pablo Larraín’s Jackie. But ultimately, it does a stand-up job of adhering to the genre’s usual ideologies, with the obligatory scenic, thought-provoking cinematography and emotive music.
When Cox finally announces: ‘This is the Prime Minister speaking’ after a figurative 96 hours leading up to the invasion of Normandy – and as he delivers his D-Day address to a waiting nation – an audience can finally comprehend the significance of those six words exactly; both what they mean, and what they need to mean in order to leave a primitive impression. It’s a compelling use of dialogue, which transforms into sheer and utter escapism, back to a time hardly any of us can recognise.
This, amongst many other moments throughout the narrative, make up for the somewhat poorly constructed flaws that are speckled throughout parts of the film. Whilst it’s certainly not up there in my personal favourites of War-genre movies, it deserves a pat on the back for its production and an almighty applause for its performances. All in all, it is a fascinating watch.
Do you think Churchill competes with similar biopics of its type, or was this film a total misstep? Let us know in the comments!
Churchill was released on May 25th in the US and June 16th in the UK. For all international release dates, see here.
“The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it.” Read the Letter of Solidarity here. Make a donation to the legal fund here.