Directed by: Jonathan Teplitzky
Starring: Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, James Purefoy
Rated PG for thematic elements, brief war images, historical smoking throughout and some language
1 hr. 45 min.
For a dwindling generation across the English-speaking world, his words of determination, defiance, even humor in the face of fear and uncertainty are as unforgettable as World War II itself. His growling yet refined voice echoes through the decades. For those too young to know Sir Winston Churchill outside of history classes and documentaries, think of familiar phrases like “The Iron Curtain,” “blood, sweat and tears,” or “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
Churchill, the latest cinematic exposition on the man called “The Greatest Briton of All Time,” is centered on the days leading up to the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe on June 6, 1944. It’s a strong film and a welcome chapter on one of the 20th century’s iconic leaders, with a powerful performance by Brian Cox as the prime minister. He chews on baton-sized stogies and pours snifters of brandy and shots of scotch, while tortured by the prospect of a blood bath on D-Day.
In the beautifully photographed rolling hills of England, untouched, lush and green, a German Luftwaffe rains death from above. Just kilometers away, Churchill is fraught with doubt as he meets with Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower (terse, outstanding work by Mad Men’s John Slattery), Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery (Julian Wadham) and King George VI (James Purefoy, who handles the king’s famous speech impediment with dignity).
It would take a historian to truly analyze Churchill’s adamant opposition to the D-Day plans, as presented to him. Yet it is obvious from the opening sequences that he is haunted by the 1915 invasion of Gallipoli during World War I — an invasion he championed. Over 100,000 allied soldiers were lost in that disastrous campaign. Churchill is alternately articulate, volatile and kind, his moods governed, chastened, at times chided, by his wife of 36 years, his guiding force, Clementine (an always excellent Miranda Richardson). Her love and ability to refocus his volcanic tirades have positive results, particularly for his put-upon young stenographer (Ella Purnell).
While much of the Allied Expeditionary Force awaits orders aboard Higgins boats just off the coast in the English Channel, the prime minister goes as far as dropping to his knees to offer an expressive, pulpit-worthy plea to the almighty, that inclement weather will continue to delay the invasion and avert catastrophe.
Cox’s portrayal of Churchill carries the movie through lulls that are necessary, especially when depicting a larger-than-life, multifaceted human being, a man of such divergent character traits. He could be short and condescending, rigid and stalwart, insecure and depressed, balanced by an earnestness and eloquence that kept a country — and the free world — calm and carrying on.
By examining these few tumultuous days until the decisive moment to invade, anyone with a vague notion of what occurred can get a primer on Churchill’s military bearing, his use of pathos, his ability with words and the torture that lay beneath them.
This month marks the 73rd anniversary of D-Day. As we observe it, I would highly recommend seeing Director Jonathan Teplitzky’s inspired effort, written by Alex von Tunzelmann. It reveals the reality of freedom on the precipice, within the lifetime of your parents or grandparents. I would also suggest seeking out someone of that generation who experienced that time. Gather their recollections. Get to know the world that preceded ours, and the people who paid the price for what we have today. Then you may even more fully understand the importance of Churchill, the film and the man.