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Film review: Churchill is a tempestuous portrayal of the great British hero

The film may not be completely accurate, but Brian Cox’s acting truly entertains.
Scottish actor Brian Cox as Winston Churchill and Miranda Richardson as Clementine in Churchill, which was directed by Jonathan Teplitzky. Salon Churchill Ltd / Front Row Filmed Entertainment
Scottish actor Brian Cox as Winston Churchill and Miranda Richardson as Clementine in Churchill, which was directed by Jonathan Teplitzky. Salon Churchill Ltd / Front Row Filmed Entertainment

Churchill

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky

Starring: Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, James Purefoy

Three stars

The stout, resolute figure of Winston Churchill, often described as Britain’s greatest prime minister, takes centre stage in this biopic by Jonathan Teplitzky. Churchill attempts to look at the man behind the myth, one that is often shrouded by plumes of cigar smoke and that famous victory sign, as it zeroes in on the weeks leading up to the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944.

With over 155,000 troops crossing the English Channel and arriving on the beaches of Normandy, it proved a major turning point in the Second World War.

Teplitzky and his screenwriter Alex von Tunzelmann bookend the film with Churchill (a well-cast Brian Cox) stalking a deserted beach, haunted by the sight of blood in the water.

It’s a potent image, reminiscent of his famous speech after the 1940 Dunkirk retreat when he told the parliament, “we shall fight on the beaches”, and a startling illustration of the conflict he felt in sending young men to war in such a dangerous plan as 1944’s Operation Overlord. It’s this internal dilemma that drives Churchill.

If this is an admirable notion, Teplitzky’s film struggles dramatically. Historians will certainly quibble with its accuracy – in truth, Churchill was well on board across the operation’s months of planning. And the film never quite manages to lift itself from the trap of being little more than scenes of uniformed men in rooms staring at maps of Europe, as Churchill clashes with general Eisenhower (Mad Men’s John Slattery) and Montgomery (Julian Wadham) over the invasion.

With Churchill’s no-nonsense wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson) frequently chiding him for his behaviour, the film does succeed in showing a tempestuous side to this great British hero. One of the most-effective arcs is his relationship with his secretary Helen Garrett (Ella Purnell); frequently barking at her, he softens when he finds out her betrothed is shipping out to the D-Day landings – a hint at the human cost that defeating Adolf Hitler took.

There’s an effective performance also from James Purefoy as King George VI (previously played by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech), and his few scenes are memorable, gentle and never overplayed. But the film really revolves around the Scottish-born Cox, who embodies Churchill with enormous gusto. With Gary Oldman also playing the prime minister in Joe Wright’s upcoming Darkest Hour, Cox sets the bar high. It’s a star turn, even if it doesn’t quite have the film it deserves to accompany it.

artslife@thenational.ae

Updated: June 7, 2017 04:00 AM

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