Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky. Starring Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, Ella Purnell, Julian Wadham, Richard Durden, James Purefoy. (2017, PG, 98 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 9, 2017
History is not well-served by this film’s evocation of Winston Churchill or the planning for D-Day (whose June 6, 1944, anniversary is commemorated by the timing last week of Churchill’s release on June 2). Aiming to create a more rounded portrait of Churchill (named the Greatest Briton of all time in a 2002 BBC poll), this film instead diminishes his memory by presenting him as a petulant leader whose battle with depression threatened to impede the Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower’s plans for the D-Day invasion. Moreover, this Churchill presented here is saddled with some hackneyed dialogue, and framed by “great man” cinematography that poses him commandingly in every shot. Fortunately, Brian Cox delivers a bravura performance that keeps things watchable, if not always dramatically truthful.
It’s known that Churchill had his misgivings about the wisdom of the D-Day operation, but the film presents his objections as obstreperous and peevish. At one point, he is accused of “amateur theatrics” for his attempt to win his argument. Churchill takes place during the four-day lead-up to the Normandy landing, during which time Churchill argues with the Allied commanders and is only reined in by King George VI (Purefoy), who pays him a personal visit. Miranda Richardson is wasted in the part of Churchill’s wife Clementine, who is also shown to exert some influence over her husband’s moods and decisions. Anyone coming to the film without prior knowledge of Churchill or the import of the D-Day invasion will find their knowledge little enhanced, although abundant music cues will try to point the way. Frequent shots of men with brows furrowed while deciding what course to take do not greatly assist Churchill’s narrative progression. (Watching men decide is almost as cinematically exciting as watching writers write.) In the end, Churchill is a biographical footnote that will be pertinent only to students of the Great Briton.