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Churchill (Brian Cox) - Review

Churchill

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

HISTORICALLY playful it may well be but Jonathan Teplitzky’s Churchill remains a fascinating piece of work for the way in which it examines the man behind the legend.

Anchored by a typically towering central performance by Brian Cox, the film presents the iconic British Prime Minister as someone at odds with himself, both as a leader preparing to send his troops into one of the most crucial battles of World War Two, and as a man battling depression (his self-professed ‘Black Dog’).

As such, it provides an intimate look at the mind of Churchill as opposed to an epic account of the events leading up to and including D-Day.

And while some historians have already [rightly] criticised the film for the liberties it takes with historical fact, there is still plenty to be enjoyed and even learned from Alex von Tunzelmann’s screenplay.

So, what is fact and what constitutes artistic licence? Churchill was opposed to D-Day for fear of the casualties it could create. But his objections came months, if not years, before the three-day period depicted here. Rather, by the time the troops were ready, Churchill was one of D-Day’s architects and proponents.

It is true that he wanted to accompany the troops by being on a nearby battleship with King George VI. And it is documented, in the diaries of Lord Alanbrooke (aka Brookie in the film), that there was ‘undue interference, excessive drinking and falling energy levels’ in the run-up to D-Day.

Von Tunzelmann’s decision to condense the doubts about D-Day into the three days before the landings is certainly a folly that saddles the film with an obvious Achilles heel for those who want to criticise it. But there remains plenty to savour, not least because of the quality of leading man Cox’s richly nuanced performance.

His Churchill is a man desperately aware of the disastrous potential of a botched beach landing given that he carries the ghosts of the young lives lost on the shores of the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign led during World War I. Similarly, he is a man painfully aware of his own, apparently faltering legacy, as well as the continued toll of battling mental illness.

And yet, as difficult and effusive as he remains throughout, there is also a capacity for kindness and humility, for finding a path to victory and for leading a nation that remains inspiring. Indeed, a scene in which he berates his secretary for failing to understand a word is lifted straight from a real-life memoir, as are the insights into his capacity for acts of tenderness and humility.

Teplitzky’s film presents Churchill as a complex, flawed individual and Cox really does deliver a richly layered portrayal that ranks on a par with his finest work.

There’s strong support, too, from the likes of Miranda Richardson as his long-suffering wife and confidante Clemmie; John Slattery and Julian Wadham as frustrated generals Eisenhower and Mountbatten, Ella Purnell, as his put-upon secretary (a composite of several women, whose memoirs were also a source), and James Purefoy as King George, who shares one of the film’s most moving scenes with Cox.

Teplitzky, who also directed The Railway Man (about another WWII legend, Eric Lomax), also deserves credit for managing to find a balance between deconstructing Churchill and retaining the iconography surrounding him.

He provides plenty of opportunity for Cox to fill the screen in physically imposing style, while exercising his vocal prowess. And there are numerous shots of the PM almost engulfed in plumes of cigar smoke that are perhaps evocative of the fog of war.

Hence, while Churchill may struggle to withstand the criticism surrounding some of its historical accuracy (on a timeline basis), it stands as a fascinating character study and timely insight anchored by a terrific central performance.

Certificate: PG
Running time: 110mins
UK Release Date: June 16, 2017

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