I find history fascinating and Churchill is one of the most famous personalities of World War II. A movie about him and about a pivotal point in the history of the War sounded like it would be riveting and entertaining, especially with Brian Cox playing Churchill. While the acting was exactly what I expected, brilliant and insightful, the pacing of the film was slow and some facts changed for dramatic effect.
Brian Cox plays Churchill as D-Day approaches and Allied Forces gather their troops on the south coast of Britain, poised to re-take Nazi occupied Europe. Winston Churchill, haunted by his command of Gallipoli in 1915 that ended in the slaughter of thousands of young men, is fearful of a similar carnage lying in store for the troops being sent to France. Doubt and depression plague him as he tries to convince General Eisenhower (John Slattery) that the plan will fail. Eisenhower and Field Marshal Montgomery (Julian Wadham) push forward with the campaign, ignoring Churchill’s bluster and bite. Even King George VI (James Purefoy) must intervene to keep Churchill at home where he is most needed.
The majority of the film focuses on Churchill’s doubts and his desire to find some way to be involved in the war effort, to not be delegated to standing by the sidelines as he waits for news of the deployment of the troops only to discover whether he is right or wrong about the decision to send troops to the beaches of Normandy. The film also provides light to be shone on the support of his wife, Clementine (Miranda Richardson) as she attempts to keep her husband from falling prey to depression and insecurity even while his temper and bullying pushes those around him to the edge. Eventually, Churchill rises to the demands of his position and encourages his people to fight on until they are free.
While some of the timeline has been changed for dramatic license, much of the ideas of the film are accurate. The film is the last five days prior to the invasion but while Winston Churchill did doubt the campaign, by this time, he had resigned himself to the plan. He did argue against the campaign though and his depression was very real. His character was portrayed authentically by Brian Cox, highlighting Churchill’s doubts, his theatricality, his doubts and his flaws. The invasion itself happens off screen and while Winston Churchill is correct about the loss of life, it was a strategic success which owes much of its success to Dwight Eisenhower. Both the success and the possible losses are convincing in the film.
Brian Cox is completely believable as Winston Churchill but so too are the other performances in the movie. John Slattery is convincing as Dwight Eisenhower and be as solid as Brian Cox in his performance. James Purefoy as George VI is understated and perfectly cast. But the most fascinating performance was Miranda Richardson as Clementine, Churchill’s wife. She is compelling and witty, supportive and honest. And I found her the unsung star of the film, supporting her husband, living around his edges and managing to ease him past the worst of his depression, keeping him on a steady path all the while keeping a sense of humor. If any tiny part of this is what Clementine Churchill was like, I find myself wanting to study more of her role in Winston Churchill’s life.
While the performances were successful and engaging, the movie itself was slow. As it is more of a biography of Churchill’s life over the few days prior to D-Day, it is very much dialogue driven and there is very little action. There is also a bit of repetition as Churchill tries to find a way to insert himself into the campaign in a more active role but failing as others tell him he is more needed at home as Prime Minister. I truly felt that a good bit of the repetition could have been cut and would have enjoyed seeing more action as Churchill re-discovers his ability to stir support with his words. While seeing his doubts is important to the film, faster pacing and a shorter timeframe would have made the story drag less. Overall, I felt it missed a bit but was truthful to Winston Churchill’s personality.
I enjoyed seeing the interaction between Miranda Richardson as Clementine Churchill and Brian Cox as Winston, their chemistry perfect and their performances nuanced. The scenery is gorgeous and the acting is compelling. While it is slower paced, if you like historical films, you might find it of interest for the insight into Winston Churchill. I know I certainly loved discovering more about this time period and the personality of this great man.
Rating: 3.5 stars