CHURCHILL. UK, 2017, 98 minutes, Colour. Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, Julian Waterman, Ella Purnell, James Purefoy, Richard Durden. Directed by Jonathan Teplitsky.
Over the decades there have been many films about Winston Churchill. In many polls, especially at the beginning of the 21st century, Churchill was the number one choice for voters for the most significant Briton who ever lived.
In the 1970s, there was Young Winston. In more recent times Albert Finney has played Churchill in The Gathering Storm, Churchill in the 1930s. This was followed by Brendan Gleeson, Into the Storm, going into the war period. Michael Gambon also played Churchill in Churchill’s Secret, focusing on his political ambitions in the mid 1950s. Now it is the turn of Brian Cox – who, perhaps, looks more like Churchill himself, facially, size, stoop and walking, anger and arrogance…
The timespan for this film is June 1944, the four days before D-Day, 6 June and the Normandy landing. This is indicated in captions as the time of the invasion gets closer.
Significantly, Churchill is first seen walking along the beach, remembering his action in World War I, the disappointments that he experienced with the failure of the landing at Gallipoli, his sense of guilt – looking at the waves coming into the beach, and their being blood red as he remembered the number of men killed. He has similar apprehensions about the death toll in the forthcoming landing, Operation Overlord.
While the film shows Churchill’s activities in some detail, his work in the war room, those assisting him, his moody outbursts critical of his secretaries, his continued drinking, his tiredness, even his rather haughty prayer on his knees asking God to send bad weather so that the invasion would not take place.
In all the films about Churchill, his wife Clementine, is most significant. Here she is played by Miranda Richardson. Their marriage was long, Clemmie able to support her husband in his down years as well is in his successes but, at this stage of the war, when he was being so crabby, she talks strongly to a number of times, appealing to his commonsense, urging him not to be a warrior but a statesman who would leave the country in the war effort and moved towards peace. This means that there are some dramatic moments, outside the war, where the tensions between husband and wife are interestingly dramatised.
Very important other sequences where Churchill goes to meetings in the country, for security, to discuss the invasion with General Eisenhower (John Slattery) and General Montgomery (Julian Wadham). Churchill is fiercely against the invasion of France and the potential loss of life, makes no bones about confronting the military chiefs, with some attempts by his assistant, Field Marshal Smuts, whom he has known from Boer War, for reason, calm and respect.
It is interesting to watch, as Churchill did, the final meetings to decide when the invasion should begin, with experts, of the weather and its difficulties, cloud cover and the possibility for aerial support and other strategies.
A human touch is introduced with one of Churchill secretaries, Ella Pernell, who be choose up but, can’t buy his wife, and responding to the secretaries outburst in his pessimistic speechmaking, finds that she has fiancee one of the boats – and he makes an effort to find out whether fiancee is and how he fared in the landing and his safety of the beaches.
There is a fine scene with James Purefoy as George VI discussing their presence at D-Day.
There will be many more films about Winston Churchill. The value of this film is to appreciate how important was his leadership during the blitz and the Battle of Britain, and how, with some pig headedness, he might have had a derogatory effect on the Normandy landings which eventually lead to the ending of the war.
Direction is by JonathanTeplitsky, Australian director who made Getting Square and the fine reflection on the Japanese war and prisoners of war, The Railway Man.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.