Rating: 5 / 5
Churchill is one of the finest films to hit our cinemas this year.
Responses will vary, depending on your age and view of Churchill. Older viewers who dislike the man, his politics and his deeds may not warm to the film as much as those of us who only know about this time from history.
Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky has directed a gripping film with superb performances from his actors.
Set in June 1944, it follows Winston Churchill in the days prior to the D-Day landings. The stage is set for a major confrontation between Prime Minister Churchill (Brian Cox), American allied commander Dwight Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Britain’s Field Marshal Montgomery (Julian Wadham).
Eisenhower and Montgomery are convinced that the only way to save France from a Nazi invasion is to invade France and repel the Germans. Standing in their way is Churchill, who must approve the decision before it can proceed.
And that’s the fascination of this film. Churchill is haunted by his mistakes from World War One, and repeatedly tortures himself with the enormous loss of life he believes his decisions caused. He is determined to avoid being responsible for the mass deaths he feels the D-Day invasion will cause.
So haunted is Churchill that, in the early scenes during a walk on the beach, he looks at the ocean and sees water stained with blood, a recurring image in Churchill.
We witness Churchill facing a total mental collapse, and his frustration that nobody will listen to what he feels is the correct point of view—his.
Brian Cox’s Churchill is a masterly performance that should be nominated for major awards. Many actors have played Churchill, but Cox seems to inhabit him in a way we have rarely seen before. A totally believable and captivating performance. Cox brings us Churchill in all his moods—as a thoroughly unlikeable bully, a supreme egotist, yet a man with a kind heart capable of great generosity. A flawed human being with many talents and ability to charm.
History has recorded that Churchill suffered badly from his ‘black dog’, depression, and we see him struck down by debilitating episodes, leaving his devoted and feisty wife Clemmie (Miranda Richardson) to despair at times.
Teplitzky portrays this marriage of equals warts and all. There are many confrontations between husband and wife, and while Clemmie is tempted to leave, their rapprochement is touching and believable. Churchill knows he can’t survive without Clemmie, and she is his guiding light through the darkness. A fine performance from Richardson with excellent chemistry between the couple.
The other performer who stands out is Richard Durden as South African General Smuts, Churchill’s closest confidant and ally. He is always at Churchill’s side and is a mesmerizing presence on the screen.
Churchill eventually capitulated to what needed to be done, and his feared mass loss of life did not come to fruition, meaning we can go on a dramatic film journey with these major historical figures but leave the cinema with a satisfied smile.
Highlight: Brian Cox’s magnificent performance as Churchill
Red flag: strong language and occasional gory scenes