Brandon Richardson | 31/05/2017
The four-day period in the lead up to D-Day that this film covers would have felt blessedly shorter than this trudging, irrelevant thriller.
Churchill is a slow-burning, political biopic following Winston Churchill (Brian Cox), Britain’s then-Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, over the four days leading up to the Normandy landings: the operation that began the liberation of northern Europe at the end of World War 2. Although the operation has been in planning for many months, Churchill is getting cold feet over the whole affair, fearing that the landings will turn into a repeat of the massacres at Gallipoli.
On top of this, he is struggling with the transference of control of his country’s forces to American General Eisenhower (John Slattery). In the background, he struggles with depression, and the weight of the lofty expectations of the British people to lead him through these times as he did during the Blitz. Tired from years of unflappable leadership through the War, he relies on the support of his wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson), but finds that not even their sturdy relationship may save him from his troubles.
The most appealing aspect of this film, and perhaps the primary reason why it was made, is the opportunity to witness Brian Cox assume the role of Churchill. Tasked with portraying one of the most famous men in modern history, Cox certainly delivers. Giving a nuanced performance, Cox effectively captures all the little quirks and habits that made Churchill as enigmatic as he was. He is able to tactfully change from entertaining to harrowing as needed, effectively mirroring the manner in which Churchill would have had to change his outward demeanour when dealing with the public or other members of the high command.
He is well complemented by a commanding performance from Richardson as Clementine Churchill. She gives an intelligent wit and stoicism to the character that is an excellent counterpoint to the emotional instability of her husband. Teplitzky touches on a host of pertinent themes through his examination of Churchill over these harrowed days. Churchill, having lived his whole life as a fighter, sees the end of the War and his political career in sight, and is internally struggling with his prospects and purpose for the future. In exposing this, Teplitzky shows a human side to Churchill and shows us that behind a public facade of strength, leaders such as Churchill face similar problems. We also see Churchill torn up over his past mistakes, showing us that even a man as publicly steadfast as him struggles to deal with the demons of his past.
The most surprising element of Churchill is that it somehow managed to reach a 98 minute runtime (although it feels much longer), given the dry and largely uneventful source material it covers. Indeed, the plot is essentially just a few men struggling to come to a decision, with the climax being that they finally make a decision. Furthermore, as enjoyable as Cox is to watch, the character itself becomes harder and harder to sympathise with. Granted that he was dealing with significant psychological challenges at the time, but it becomes increasingly difficult to tolerate Churchill acting like a petulant child that is not getting his way.
For those with a keen interest in military or political history, Churchill shows a hidden side to the eponymous leader, who is marvellously portrayed by Brian Cox. For the rest of us, we are left with an incredibly slow, dragging drama that offers little in the plot department to capture the attention of the audience.