Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Churchill ★★☆☆☆

Churchill (2017) portrays a small slice of Winston Churchill’s life 96 hours before the D-day landings - ‘the 1,736th day of World War 2’, as the film frames it. Winston Churchill, riddled with guilt from the 100,000 lives lost during the failed Gallipoli Campaign 30 years before, opposes the coming D-Day invasion of France and gets very vocal about it. 

Like me, you might have understandably heard the name ‘Churchill’ and instantly thought of Gary Oldman, who won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the British icon. But before you get too excited, please be aware that Churchill (2017) and The Darkest Hour (2017) are two completely different films. That’s right, two major features were released featuring Winston Churchill in the same year.

In Churchill, he’s portrayed by Brian Cox - and although he does a bang up job, you’ll find that this film is definitely the weaker sibling. This film runs for around 100 minutes, and you feel every single one of them. It might be the film’s attempted buildup of tension, or even its best efforts to present a complex emotional narrative. It just doesn’t pay off with either, and what you’re left with is a difficult watch. 

I might not sound like it, but I’m glad I watched it. I found this flawed, worried and fearful representation of Winston Churchill a very interesting difference to what our history lessons tell us, and Brian Cox has a fantastic presence. If you love your history films and your biopics, there’s a good chance that you’ll also enjoy watching this film. 

However, if you are a lover of true history and a WWII buff, in particular, you might find some of this film’s interpretations frustrating. Andrew Roberts, a noted WWII historian himself, gave the writer of this film, Alex von Tunzelmann, a lot of criticism for ‘historical inaccuracies’ and ‘mischaracterization’ of Churchill. 

Roberts describes the film as ‘Ms. von Tunzelmann’s perverse fantasy’, dragging her over the coals for her portrayal of Churchill’s marriage, his disagreement with major decisions regarding the war and dozens of minor costuming mistakes that’d be an easy spot for experts in the field. His article linked above for The Churchill Project reads like the work of someone who took this film very seriously, and very personally. 

But that’s not just Roberts’ problem. I have a hard time telling if this film takes itself too seriously, or not seriously enough. The portrayal of Churchill’s famous speeches and the delivery of several of the film’s more dramatic dialogue comes across as pretty cliched, and maybe too patriotic for British sensibility to take seriously. Although they might be historically accurate, it’s hard to believe that’s what he truly said.

By contrast, film critic Robbie Collin at the Telegraph describes it as a ‘razor-sharp political taxonomy’, praising everything from Brian Cox’s portrayal to the cinematography and the dialogue. As Collin puts it, ‘all the best scenes are head-to-heads’. The critic's reviews of this film are often more glowing than that of those who are dedicated to their WWII history, perhaps indicating a film which has prioritised masterful filmmaking over the accuracy of their material. 

My final word is a little paradoxical. Will you love this film? Probably not. Is it hard watching? Yes. Will you enjoy the experience of watching it? I did, and I think you will too. This is one that you really have to watch for yourself in order to decide which side of the tracks you’re on. Just don’t suggest it for a movie night with your mates. 

Jake Turnbull

Churchill at CeX

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