Win­ston huffs and puffs to sham­bolic lev­els

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

CHURCHILL ★★★ Di­rected by Jonathan Teplitzky Star­ring Brian Cox, Mi­randa Richard­son, John Slat­tery, James Pure­foy, Ju­lian Wad­ham, Danny Webb, Richard Dur­den, Ella Pur­nell Cert PG, limited re­lease, 98mins In the days be­fore the Nor­mandy land­ing, Bri­tish prime min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill re­trieves his hat along a blus­tery coast­line be­fore ut­ter­ing some of the worst di­a­logue you’ll hear this sum­mer: “Beaches al­ways bring it back . . . Al­most 30 years ago now . . . So many young men.”

Winnie promptly returns to No 10, is in­tro­duced to the new sec­re­tary (Ella Pur­nell) – whom he will al­ter­nately bawl out and charm for the rest of the movie – dons his spe­cial breeches and heads to the last brief­ing on Op­er­a­tion Over­lord. There, a gath­er­ing of rel­e­vant his­tor­i­cal fig­ures – Bernard Mont­gomery (Ju­lian Wad­ham), King Ge­orge VI (James Pure­foy), and Gen Dwight D Eisen­hower (John Slat­tery) – are help­fully in­formed that “this is our last brief­ing on Op­er­a­tion Over­lord, the as­sault on the Ger­man oc­cu­py­ing forces in the north of France.”

We’ve seen a cathe­dral of de­cent Churchills on screen over the years. But he has never looked quite as sham­bolic as he does in this new film, di­rected by Jonathan Teplitzky from a script by Alex von Tun­zel­mann. Brian Cox does ex­cel­lent work, of­ten against the script. His Churchill huffs and puffs against the D-Day land­ings, partly be­cause he re­calls the death toll at Gal­lipoli dur­ing the first World War.

(Spoiler alert: It’s true that Churchill ex­pressed reser­va­tions about the Nor­mandy land­ing, but there’s no ev­i­dence that he at­tempted to widen the in­va­sion. Had he in­sisted, he could not have been over-ruled by the Amer­i­cans, as he is here.)

Di­rec­tor and writer at­tempt to hu­man­ise their sub­ject by show­ing him re­hears­ing his speeches and stand­ing around in his un­der­pants. (As with Bat­man’s util­ity belt, Churchill only gains his su­per­pow­ers when he puts his hat on.)

Un­for­tu­nately, the film’s at­tempt to con­flate Churchill’s de­pres­sion and D-Day is not just his­tor­i­cally ques­tion­able, dra­mat­i­cally it doesn’t ring true. Cox re­sponds with a mas­ter­class, re­gard­less. And there are some beau­ti­fully writ­ten sup­port­ing char­ac­ters en­livened by as­tute per­for­mances, par­tic­u­larly from James Pure­foy as King Ge­orge and Richard Dur­den as South African prime min­is­ter Jan Smuts.

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