COHEN MEDIA GROUP (2017)

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky

Starring: Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, Ella Purnell, James Purefoy, Julian Wadham

“I will never surrender…WE will never surrender!”

 

The first of two 2017 movies focusing on Sir Winston Churchill, Churchill delivers a version of events in the days leading up to D-Day – where on June 6, 1944, 250,000 Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, France and changed the course of the War in Europe. In the months leading up to Operation Overlord, as it was dubbed, Churchill had severe doubts regarding the probability of the missions success and recalled his own bloody history at Gallipoli, where under his watch (and thanks to military incompetence by commanders) over 250,000 Allied troops died in a failed campaign.

 

He was cleared of any wrongdoing in the case of Gallipoli, but the memories remained.

Churchill doesn’t deal with the steely, determined, blood-and-thunder image of Churchill that is so often portrayed, instead Brian Cox’s version is a stubborn, demon-riddled, antiquated bully essentially, clinging to the belief that if the Operation failed at Gallipoli 30 years previously, it would fail here. On the eve of the mission, Prime Minister Churchill roars his disagreement to Allied Forces Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower (Slattery) and General Montgomery (Wadham) and pleads with King George VI (Purefoy) to abandon the Operation for ‘safer’ options. Constantly dismissed as being out of touch and a hindrance (and at one point accused of treachery) Churchill continues to vocally oppose Overlord. His rationale is that hundreds and thousands of young men will be slaughtered in an operation that cannot succeed and one that will ensure overall defeat in World War II.

 

With depression and alcohol reliance settling in, Churchill’s wife Clementine (Richardson) has the unenviable task of attempting to rally her husband’s spirit, to convince him that he is no longer a warrior and his country needs him to rally their souls. It’s a constant battle between them, but Churchill’s bond with his wife eventually shines through. Likewise, Churchill’s pretty new secretary Helen Garrett (Purnell) faces the full brunt of his stress, frustration and fears as D-Day looms large on the approaching horizon.

 

It’s strange, in hindsight, to watch Churchill so ferociously against Overlord knowing the breakthrough the brave sacrifices and heroism secured the Allies, though his fears plagued him for months before the mission began – not in the days before – and in the days before the Operation, Churchill was actually one of its greatest advocates. The movie clings too greatly to the idea that Churchill carried the burden of Gallipoli with him to the level presented, he had absolved himself of full blame years prior (as well as being fully cleared of wrongdoing). The historical accuracy of the movie has reviewed with intense scrutiny, and rubbished by Churchill historians, though it’s fair to assume the man himself would falter at times with the weight of the country on his shoulders and the impending Operation that would define him and the future of Britain.

 

Brian Cox impresses as the larger-than-life leader, bellowing his way through scenes and solemnly reflective in others. Managing to capture the tone of Churchill’s dominant voice and never without a trusty fat cigar, Cox plays the part with aplomb. Richardson is equally impressive as the long-suffering, stoic wife anchoring Churchill in the real world. Her sharp charm works extremely well against Cox’s bluster. Their scenes together provide the solid foundations for the movie and provide its highlights. Perennial Army Commander Julian Wadham appears and delivers a better performance here than he did in the snivelling turd that was Exorcist: The Beginning. The cast as a whole were fine, Purdey and Slattery performing admirably.

 

Cox looks the part of Churchill, also. His aged face grizzled and furrowed, the famous hat and long coats are on full display (and, yes, the cigar) and the famous silhouette cuts through the background and ensures Churchill always remains the focus.

 

The movie saunters along at a consistently pedestrian pace, unfolding as a concealed drama rather than focusing on the gore of war. There’s nothing to get the blood rushing here, it’s the performances that capture you and the differing image of an icon. The icon we need to see fail in order to reach the historical Normandy landings. History may see it differently, but the outcome remains the same.

 

Unflinching in its portrayal, Churchill opts for drama ahead of accuracy but still provides an interesting movie and offers an altered insight to the legendary leader. To hear his speeches always stirs something inside, and whilst the movie may not have, the glory surrounding Sir Winston will always prevail.

September 14th 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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