Churchill, but not as you know him.
While some people don’t like him, Winston Churchill is regarded as one of the greatest Britons of all time. Heck, he topped a poll looking to find who was the Greatest Briton, beating such luminaries such as David Beckham and Robbie Williams. The latter is a greater Briton than Sir Tim Berners-Lee by the way. So as you’d expect, many movies have been made about his life and efforts in World War II. This means that any new movie about him has to find something new to explore or else it’s pretty pointless. So can Churchill shine a new light on the former Prime Minister?
Just a few days before it is set to take place, Winston Churchill (Brian Cox, Troy) is informed about Operation Overlord, better known as D-Day. However, while the Americans are very excited about the plan, Churchill has reservations as it reminds him of his own botched operation in Gallipoli in World War I. And so, he tries his best to stop the plan as the others try to sideline him.
Well, the film at least succeeds in finding something different to tell me about Churchill. I’m not a history buff so take this with a grain of salt, but I had no idea that Churchill did not like D-Day and would have preferred if it was a different operation. In terms of a history lesson, this is good. I admire Churchill as much as the next person, but he’s not a perfect man by any means and trusting that this movie is historically accurate which is probably a daft mistake on my behalf, I have now learned one of the reasons why he wasn’t such a perfect man. No matter about the rest of things I end up saying about this movie, I feel like this film is going to end up being a go-to for history teachers for years to come if they need an easy lesson.
However, it’s what we already know that hurts this movie a lot. Because even if you may be a complete idiot and have barely any knowledge of this world, you still know that D-Day was a great success and was critical in the allied forces winning the war. Heck, you’ve probably played D-Day in a Call of Duty game, so we all know very well what a brilliant day that was in eventually defeating the Nazis. So the film puts the viewer in an odd position by making our main character, the one we are meant to be rooting for, someone that is so against it. A lot of the film is Churchill ranting about how stupid a plan Operation Overlord is and while it’s done with the best of intentions, you do want to grab him and say it’s going to be a massive success so just keep quiet man.
And that leads to another huge problem with the movie, the fact it is very repetitive. This movie does one thing for most of its time. Churchill grumbles about a man, he meets that man, man is slightly antagonistic, though in hindsight the viewer has perfectly correct, and then Churchill goes on a five-minute rant. Rinse and repeat until the final third when thankfully, the movie decides to shake things up a bit. Mostly by cutting the rants. Now, Brian Cox does put in a great performance and he really does do the Churchill rants well, but they get very tiresome. They are usually about the same thing, how Operation Overlord is going to fail and kill everyone, and again, we know he’s not right. So it quickly becomes very tedious as you can see when the film is about to unleash another one at us. I recommend going to make a cup of tea while this goes on.
It’s a shame because the film does really well when exploring other parts of Churchill’s psyche. For instance, in the final third, we start to touch on the depression that he has during his life and how he suffers from it badly when Operation Overlord does indeed go ahead. It’s the best part of the movie because it’s something we haven’t seen before, this great strong leader that many in this country still look up to whose made to be bedridden because of this horrific illness that too many today still suffer from. And they do it without even saying the word depression, you can just tell from Cox’s fantastic acting and the way everyone else delicately talks about the subject as you’d expect from people living in the 1940s.
It’s a drop dead gorgeous film as well. I’ve noticed that in some period features, some directors get lazy because the costume and set departments do their work for them by making everything look great but here director Jonathan Teplitzky (The Railway Man) really amps it up with his choice of shots. Firstly there is the brilliant opening sequence with Churchill on a beach which depicts what the horrors of Gallipoli have over him better than any lengthy monologue ever could. Seriously, if you are a young director, watch that short scene just to see that the storytelling you do with the camera is often far more important than the storytelling done in the script. There’s also a brilliantly shot scene between Churchill and his wife Clemmie (Miranda Richardson, Sleepy Hollow) in a large room which is just breathtaking to look at. The scene itself is nothing special, but the cinematography makes it memorable.
Churchill is a weird film to review because you can never truly root for its protagonist. If you came into this film completely blind, it would be far better because you wouldn’t know that Churchill is essentially trying to stop an operation that helped us to win the war. But we do know about D-Day and we know how crucial that was in defeating the Nazis so this film puts us in the position where we are getting increasingly annoyed at our main character. It also suffers structurally with very repetitive scenes and that makes the film suffer as a whole despite the great depiction of his depression and how beautiful it all is. Perhaps this would have worked better as a documentary than a narrative as then you really could have gotten deep into Churchill’s reluctance to go ahead with Operation Overlord. As it is, we are left with an underwhelming biopic.