Rating: PG, thematic elements, brief war images, historical smoking throughout, and some language
Release Date: June 2, 2017
Jeanne: Unless you are a devotee of all things British (Anglophile) or a World War II historian, you may not be aware that Prime Minister Winston Churchill, considered by some to be the greatest Briton of all time, was vehemently opposed to the D-Day landing on the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. "Churchill" explores this brief period of time in the iconic statesman's life as he contends with demons from past battles, depression and a penchant for excessive drinking.
In the week leading up to the invasion (a time shortened for the sake of the screenplay), which turned the tide of WWII, Churchill (Brian Cox) has become obsessed with not repeating his major error in WWI, the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915, which incurred the mass slaughter of more than 500,000 soldiers. He petitions U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery) and British Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery (Julian Wadham), who have planned this major undertaking, to stop the operation.
At their behest, King George VI (James Purefoy) intervenes, convincing Churchill that this is the correct course of action, and dissuading him of the idea of the two of them sailing into the fray aboard the HMS Belfast. In the most moving scene in the film, the King quietly and eloquently explains to Churchill the folly of this plan. It's a magnificent monologue delivered with utter perfection by Purefoy.
Miranda Richardson portrays Churchill's long-suffering wife, Clementine. She is known for her unwavering support of the prime minister, marshalling him through his darkest hours. She is intelligent and incredibly strong, able to put up with his ever-changing moods, while not always thrilled with her life. Richardson plays "Clemmie" with a shrewdness commensurate to Churchill's bigger-than-life persona --- it's a remarkable performance.
Gaining 20 pounds and shaving his head, Cox bears a somewhat amazing resemblance to Churchill. So many great actors have portrayed this much-celebrated leader that the concept of yet another movie about him seemed unnecessary. But Cox has now put his own stamp on Sir Winston, and he is mesmerizing. Perfecting the jutting lower lip and ever-present cigar, he has transformed himself into this giant of a man, known both for his wicked temper and his compassion.
"Churchill" boasts a small but highly accomplished cast, and a brilliant script. Slattery and Wadham are exceptionally good in their smaller, but essential roles. But it is the British historian, Alex von Tunzelmann's feature film debut as screenwriter, which has set "Churchill" apart.
Her writing is crisp, thoughtful and honest. She based much of the material regarding Churchill's waverings prior to D-Day on the personal diaries of Lord Alanbrooke --- "Brookie" (Danny Webb) --- in the film. Because it is dialogue-driven, direction is paramount and Jonathan Teplitzky does a masterful job. "Churchill" is a truly fine film, with Cox as an early contender for an Oscar nom. It's also that rare, glorious escape from the Hollywood blockbusters.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
David: "Churchill" is one of the year's best films, and I expect to hold that same opinion by year's end. However, I was initially reluctant to attend our screening because I had seen Brendan Gleeson's Emmy-winning turn as the great Briton ("Into The Storm", 2009), and thought no one else could come close. But Brian Cox floored me with his portrayal, Oscar-worthy it is.
Watching Cox chomping on Cuban cigars, downing scotch after scotch, railing at General Eisenhower (John Slattery) and leaning on his wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson) for both emotional and physical support --- it's an extraordinary performance. Richardson is also excellent as the one individual in the world Winston Churchill could intimate his most personal thoughts and feelings.
As Jeanne explains, "Churchill" focuses on the days before the Normandy invasion of June 6, 1944, a.k.a. D-Day, when many thousands of Allied soldiers were secretly poised to rid the world of the Nazis. Screenwriter Alex von Tunzelmann took the liberty of condensing Churchill's objections to the invasion into a few days, when in reality those discussions were held weeks before the actual event. But object he did because he feared the disastrous results of his World War I strategy --- 500,000 soldiers died --- would be repeated on Omaha Beach.
This film is an utterly fascinating analysis of what many historians consider the greatest military invasion of all time. Director Jonathan Teplitzky utilizes Spielberg-like attention to detail to give us different aspects of Sir Winston, whether it's a close-up of Churchill lighting up a stogie, or showing his silent reaction when King George VI (James Purefoy) emphatically and movingly explains why he cannot, in good conscience, be part of the invasion's front line.
Churchill the ex-soldier wanted desperately, even at his advanced age and with failing health, to accompany the troops. It wasn't to be, but Cox is exemplary in showcasing the British Prime Minister as he discovers how he can best live up to his global reputation.
Slattery's performance as Ike is admirable --- his decisiveness is authentic, even though he bears no real physical resemblance to Dwight Eisenhower. Other cast standouts include Julian Wadham as the hawkish British General Montgomery, who also butts heads with Churchill. And not-yet-21 Ella Purnell plays Churchill's secretary Helen, initially meek at the prospect of working for him, but ultimately fearless as she stands up to him later in the film. This brief moment renders a peek at the sensitive side of Winston Churchill, proving he wasn't all bluster.
Whether you're a history buff, or interested in all things involving World War II, or none of the preceding, "Churchill" is not to be missed.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!