Churchill is director’s Jonathan Teplitzky second filmic foray into World War II territory; its predecessor is the equally soppy Nicole Kidman/Colin Firth vehicle The Railway Man. In similar fashion, as the story unfolds it veers to the predictable and utterly banal territory. Not to belittle the tragedy of loss and suffering that comes with war, but this regurgitation of films about the World Wars whether it’s through personal stories or recreating historic events, often come across as unrealistic, wishy-washy and overall fake. This film is no exception.
Allied Forces are on the brink of victory with a million soldiers secretly assembled on the south coast of Britain, poised to invade Nazi-occupied Europe, an event in history known as Battle of D-Day. The Prime Minister is Winston Churchill (Brian Cox) who appears to be in a state of mental exhaustion after governing the country under years of war while plagued by depression. Churchill is, stubbornly, standing in the way of proceedings as the battle looms, concerned with the possibility of losing great numbers of British soldiers. His reluctance brings great frustration to General Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Field Marshal Montgomery (Julian Wadham) who are anxious to press on and win the war. Churchill finds a kindred spirit in King George VI (James Purefoy), but it is his relationship with his unflappable wife Clemmie (Miranda Richardson) that is explored fuller. Her "duties" are to keep her husband in check, as well as preventing his complete physical and mental collapse.
A quick Google search will reveal that Churchill was not this diamond in the rough; a bully admittedly but with one with a heart. This is simply not true. He may have helped conquer the Nazis but Churchill was equally responsible for numerous global atrocities including, the Bengali famine of 1945 which killed four million people. He imposed great torture on Kenyans seeking independence, he unleashed the notorious Black and Tan thugs on Ireland's Catholic civilians; among many other things. He was inherently racist and openly declared that he believed in a hierarchy of races; concluding that the white race was superior to that of, say, Native Americans or Indigenous Originals of Australia.
Brian Cox gives an impressive delivery. His brutish and bullish Churchill is thoroughly convincing in looks and in manner. Furthermore, he notably and credibly showcases Churchill’s anxiety and debilitating depression. Sadly, Cox’s performance wasn’t enough to save the film, from it feeling contrived as well as downright boredom. Purefoy’s King George proves confusing with his weak interpretation of a speech impediment and Miranda Richardson’s Clemmie, allegedly Churchill’s pillar of strength, is forgettable in this instance.
There is a continuous use of flimsy, supposed poignant one-liners, which seem to be intentionally inserted at the end of monumental conversations with some military General, or other, in the vein of "the Empire’s fate lies in your hands, Churchill". As well as a good measure of cheesy moments, where director Teplitzky tries to bring out a softer side to Churchill, unsuccessfully. Churchill in a lapse of character tries to comfort his secretary by announcing that her fiancé, a soldier in battle, is alive and well. We are meant to buy into this small and unexpected act of kindness that Churchill was a good man: are we are meant to blindly ignore the numerous scenes where he hails abuse at her (and others) for menial things such as not double spacing.
Other elements of the film prove more favourable, specifically, the cinematography and the editing; attributed to the talents of DOP David Higgs and editor Chris Gill. There is great attention to detail such as settings and costumes, where scenes look vibrant and colourful within their 1940s aesthetics. There is a clever use of editing techniques where scenes merge using subtle graphics, giving the film an updated touch as well as a much-needed edge and finesse.
This pseudo Working Title–esque filmic portrayal of Churchill is deeply troubling, old-fashioned and highly condescending to the viewer. It is impossible not to judge the film without reflecting on the world’s current political volatility, especially with the prevalence similar dictator style political figures hide behind the guise of democracy. Furthermore, at a time where information is so readily available, where facts and figures can easily be obtained; we are served with fallacy; a rose-tinted seemingly perfect depiction of Churchill, which isn’t true. The way the film romanticises war, the way it focusses in on this period in Churchill’s biography glossing over the hard truths is disingenuous and irresponsible.