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Film Review: ‘Churchill’

Alistair Linford/REX/Shutterstock

Alistair Linford/REX/Shutterstock

Brian Cox plays Winston Churchill with blustery conviction in a decent, prosaic drama about the wartime lesson he had to learn.

 writes: In a historical biopic, nothing can shed light on a legendary figure — or, at least, knock him off his plaster-saint pedestal — quite like being depicted as a stooge, a bully, and a fool. In “Churchill,” a drama that unfolds during the 96 hours leading up to D-Day, Brian Cox plays Winston Churchill with roaring conviction, all fire and bluster and lion-of-Britain piss and vinegar. Yet for most of the film, he isn’t a valiant leader charting a course toward victory — he’s the one man standing in the way of it.

Churchill, the Prime Minister of Britain, is absolutely sure that the massive plan code-named Operation Overlord, which is set to kick off on June 6, 1944, with 250,000 Allied troops storming the beaches of Normandy, is a disaster in the making. He’s convinced that it will result not only in massive casualties, but in the Allied forces losing the war. “Churchill” is a small, watchable, rather prosaic backroom docudrama about how Churchill, during that four-day countdown, fought the plan with everything he had, only to finally submit to the idea that he was on the wrong side of history.

Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky in a visually functional, destined-for-VOD way, “Churchill” opens with images of Winston walking along the shore, fully clothed (he looks, if possible, like even less of a beach person than Nixon), imagining that the tides washing up around him are surging with blood. That’s the kind of movie metaphor that announces itself with too much fanfare — we get it, he’s got the horror of war on his guilty conscience — and the movie wastes no time sketching in his anxiety and raging moral reticence.

The Churchill we meet has led Britain through the war, yet he’s at the end of his tether. A whiskey-swilling lush, a pedant, and a brilliant if overly obsessive wordsmith, he is woken up at noon on the floor of his office, where he’s presumably recovering from a bender. It’s there that he begins to work out the final draft of a speech, hemming and hawing over whether to use the word “trials” or “tribulations.” He is then driven to a mansion outside London for a summit meeting with Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery), the supreme commander of the U.S. and Allied forces, and Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery (Julian Wadham), the British commander of the Allied ground troops, who are finalizing the plans for D-Day.

As Churchill draws his line in the sand, voicing his wrathful objection to what he considers an inhumane military plan, it’s clear that the speech he was fussing over was this one — a “spontaneous” plea for restraint delivered in the King’s English. Churchill’s belief that the Normandy invasion will turn out to be a hellish apocalypse of wasted carnage — he’s right, of course, about everything but the wasted part — is based on his experience of World War I, in which he proved his bravery on the ground and observed, close up, the meat-grinder horror of trench warfare. The gruesome madness of WWI was stamped forever on his reputation when he championed what turned out to be the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, a stain he’s been compensating for ever since.

Churchill was 69 years old when the events leading up to D-Day took place, and that’s how old Brian Cox was when filming commenced last year on “Churchill.” Cox has always had a brash energy, but he looks right for the part now, his pale face creased with furrows and pockets that he wears like fleshy armor. Chomping on an oversize cigar that he … (read more)

via Variety

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