Churchill (2017) – Review

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Starring: Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, Ella Purnell, Julian Wadham, Richard Durden

The Overview
A ticking-clock thriller following Winston Churchill in the 96 hours before D-Day. (Source: IMDb)

The Good
Often touted as the “greatest Briton”, this certainly isn’t the first film about Winston Churchill, nor is it even the last we’ll see this year, with Darkest Hour receiving a late release in America, and an early January release for the UK. With “the other Churchill film” poised in prime Oscar season billing, this earlier offering is perhaps a little more modest, but both seem to be going with the focus on a few days in the life of this enigmatic leader. With Darkest Hour focusing on his first few days of office, Churchill instead focuses on the 96 hours leading up to the Battle of Normandy in 1944.

This narrower focus has undoubtedly worked in some recent biopics, most notably Jackie, which focused on the few days after JFK’s assassination. Lacking the finesse of Jackie undoubtedly, it is interesting that Churchill also focuses on a very specific moment in his life, and it is absolutely more effective than trying to cram every single thing about a person into one long biopic. With this smaller focus over a shorter time span, there is opportunity for a really detailed character study, offering a window of insight into a man who many know, but is still endlessly fascinating. 

Churchill places the man himself on a much lower pedestal than many other films have and this makes for an interesting and unique insight. The effects of war and the inner turmoil of his desire to fight competing with his duty to lead, bubble to the surface and Brian Cox’s excellent performance is to thank for this. The fractured relationships between Churchill and the other leaders around him, most notably the American general and Politician Dwight Eisenhower,  are explored in great detail as is his difficult relationship with his wife Clementine, portrayed wonderfully by the always dependable Miranda Richardson.

This was perhaps one of the most interesting elements of the film, and it stayed true to the notion that Clementine was in fact one of the few people who was able to keep her firebrand of a husband in check. Her story would in fact make for an interesting story all on it’s own, as it is clear she had an incredibly important part to play in the background, supporting her husband through some of the most turbulent and difficult years possible. Hopefully one day her story will have it’s own film as it really is quite a fascinating one, and in this film at least, Miranda Richardson did a wonderful job of bringing this exceptional woman to life. 

 The Bad
It is a mistake in branding this film a “thriller” as it is hardly thrilling, particularly when you know what the outcome is going to be. It does feel a little pedestrian and laborious in places. In fact the rather comical BBFC warning which precedes the film says it contains “scenes of smoking” which in a roundabout way hints at how tame the film is if that is the biggest warning about it. Also unrelated point, but if a Churchill film didn’t contain scenes of smoking, I’d be asking for my money back!

As is so often the case with biopics, it is a film which has great performances in it but it is really only a serviceable film. It lacks finesse and uniqueness, it is lacking in drama and tension and is sadly on the whole “okay” rather than great. It is interesting and insightful enough and not a film you’ll feel angry over or wish you hadn’t watched but it is also lacking in anything to truly make it stand out. With the Darkest Hour lurking in Oscar season, and something of a transformative performance from Gary Oldman to look forward to, it seems Churchill sadly resigned itself to be the “second best Churchill film of 2017”, which is a shame. 

The Verdict
I saw this movie and you should too…but wait for it to come out on DVD or streaming services. It is difficult to class this as a bad film, because it isn’t, rather it is just “okay”, and therefore whilst it is worth your time, it isn’t necessarily worth rushing out to see it at the cinema. Whether or not Darkest Hour will prove to be better remains to be seen, and I’ll still live in hope that someone reads this review and decides to make a film about Mrs Churchill. I’ll await my royalties check in the post… 

 

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