If you haven’t heard of Sir Winston Churchill, I hope you’re recovering well from your seventy year coma.
Indeed, much has been written about the two-time Prime Minister of Britain and over the years several films and television shows have portrayed Churchill at various stages throughout his remarkable career. So what makes Churchill, the latest movie by Jonathan Teplitzky (The Railway Man and Gettin’ Square) so special?
Churchill is focused around the days leading up to the D-Day Landings of 1944. The film follows the Prime Minister’s turmoil as he struggles with the decision to send soldiers of the Allied Forces to invade a Nazi-occupied France. Haunted by his own mistakes during the First World War, Churchill vehemently disagrees with General Eisenhower about sending thousands of soldiers to their potential (and rather likely) death. This constant battle between Churchill and the army’s highest ranking officers is the focus of the entire film. The crux of the story however is Churchill’s battle with himself. As a leader who has quite literally fought for his country throughout his entire career, Churchill now faces the horrifying truth that his role in saving the country is merely as a public figure, a talking head to boost morale. Refusing to accept that he is no longer the man leading the charge, an angry and exhausted Churchill struggles to come to terms with who he is beyond Prime Minister - as a man and as a husband.
With a stunning performance by Brian Cox (The Bourne Identity, Troy, Braveheart) at the centre of it all, Churchill does not disappoint. Cox’s portrayal of the underlying vulnerability behind the tyrant is nothing short of genius. The strength and power he delivers during Churchill’s world-famous speeches is immense - a skill he no doubt honed during his numerous years with The Royal Shakespeare Company. There’s a regal quality to his performance that just screams Shakespeare in the best possible way.
Supporting Cox is a pretty flawless cast. Miranda Richardson (Damage, Sleepy Hollow & Blackadder) is a perfect pairing for Cox as Clementine Churchill. Small in stature but immeasurably defiant, she puts Churchill in his place several times throughout the film and is seen as a silent hero - the glue that ultimately holds Churchill together. John Slattery (Mad Men, Spotlight) is fantastic as the cool, calm and measured Eisenhower - a stark contrast to an animated, opinionated and (both figuratively and literally) loud Churchill.
Another notable performance for me was James Purefoy as King George VI. In fact, one of the most compelling scenes of the film for me was King George explaining to Churchill that they cannot accompany the soldiers on the ships as they had hoped. This is the moment where Churchill begins to realise his place in the war effort. It’s an incredibly tender moment between these two men, filled with history, regret, sadness and respect.
Visually, the film is beautifully shot. The vast and rustic shorelines of England are captured with a cold and gloomy hue that fits the mood of the film while the glamorous interior locations provide an apt combination of richness and darkness. The dialogue (particularly Churchill’s speeches) is powerful and heavy at times but perfectly balanced by a lot of humour throughout. Churchill’s playfulness is often seen poking through the overall darkness of the film and this creates a number of laugh out loud moments (at least for me, anyway).
Overall, Churchill is a well-produced film with a phenomenal actor at its core. Although a historical piece about a much-explored time in history, this film offers an insight into a little-known side of a great and complex man.
This review was originally published by Sydney Social 101. Churchill was released across Australia on June 8th.