Jonathan Teplitzky, director
Alex von Tunzelmann, script
Starring: Brian Cox (Churchill), Miranda Richardson (Clementine), John Slattery (Eisenhower), Ella Purnell (Helen Garrett), James Purefoy (King George VI), Richard Durden (Jan Smuts)
It’s slightly shocking to see a film about Winston Churchill suffering a crisis of conscience in the days leading up to D-Day, the Allied Forces invasion of France in June 1944. According to Churchill, Jonathan Teplitzky’s new take on England’s legendary Prime Minister, the old boy fought the Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower and his own Field Marshall Montgomery in an attempt to save lives that would be lost fighting the Nazi defenses in Normandy. This version of Churchill spent the final days before the invasion drinking way too much Johnny Walker Red Label Scotch while making a nuisance of himself in front of the High Command. At one point, he even prays for rain, which would delay the invasion.
Churchill is filled with lots of grand speeches, marital discord between Winston and Clementine and much hand wringing about how to deal with a man, who is clearly in decline. You would never imagine from this account that Churchill retired as Prime Minister in 1955, at the age of 80. Brian Cox, famous for his theatrical performances as King Lear and Titus Andronicus and many villainous film roles including most notably for cultists, his take as Hannibal Lecktor in Michael Mann’s Manhunter, is terrific as Churchill. So is the marvelous Miranda Richardson (Dance with a Stranger, Damage, Tom & Viv, Spider) as the Clementine Churchill, who is hardly a shrinking violet of a wife.
But what about the historical record? This film’s scriptwriter, the historian Alex von Tunzelmann, claims that Churchill suffered from grave depressions, tried to go on a battleship to be part of the invasion, and suffered from terrible guilt over the disastrous Gallipoli invasion of the Ottoman Empire during World War One. All true. But did he actively oppose Operation Overlord, the title for the D-Day invasion? It doesn’t appear to be so—and the days before the invasion are unlikely to be as melodramatic as the events depicted in this film apart from the King’s appearance to convince Churchill to stay home and not go on a battleship.
Churchill does feature some fine performances but overall, it’s far too windy, filled with speeches and scenes that are pretentious and hysterical. And the old history student in me has to add that it really isn’t an accurate representation of what happened to Churchill in those important days in June 1944.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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