Movie review: 'Churchill' drags, as both history and entertainment

By Alan Zilberman The Washington Post - Published: June 2, 2017 0
photo - Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson in "Churchhill." MUST CREDIT: Graeme Hunter PIctures-Cohen Media Group
Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson in "Churchhill." MUST CREDIT: Graeme Hunter PIctures-Cohen Media Group

Starring Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, James Purefoy; directed by Jonathan Teplitzky; 98 minutes; PG for strong language, war scenes and adult situations.

In terms of narrative and nuance, "Churchill" has a limited scope. Director Jonathan Teplitzky and screenwriter Alex von Tunzelmann follow the English prime minister (Brian Cox) over the course of several days leading up to the D-Day invasion. Although that 1944 mission - dubbed Operation Overlord - was ultimately a success, Winston Churchill had his doubts, to the chagrin of the Allied High Command.

The film spends a lot of time dressing down its subject - Churchill argues with everyone in his immediate circle - yet "Churchill" celebrates him anyway. This incongruity is frustrating, and Teplitzky deepens it with one overwrought, predictable choice after another.

When we are introduced to the title character, he is standing on a beach. The tide is red - at least in Churchill's imagination, where he worries that the invasion will lead to a bloodbath. Churchill meets with generals - Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Montgomery (Julian Wadham) - begging them to find an alternative to a full-on assault.

Although everyone else, including King George (James Purefoy), agrees it is the best shot at defeating Germany, Churchill protests, more out of ego than out of concern for Allied forces, turning "Churchill" into the study of a man facing encroaching obsolescence. Meanwhile, Churchill's wife, Clementine (Miranda Richardson), struggles to shape her husband into the man her country needs him to be, going so far as to work behind his back to stop his foolhardy ideas.

The perspective of "Churchill" is decidedly male-centric. Cox's Churchill is so arrogant and contemptuous of modern military strategy that there is a perverse satisfaction in seeing Slattery's Eisenhower knock him down a peg.

The supporting cast is lively and clever, which only serves to underscore the film's limited curiosity about its own subject. We're meant to pity him - Teplitzky frames Churchill like a fallen warrior - yet Clementine has the more thankless task. Indeed, the women in "Churchill" exist primarily as sounding boards for the men, with barely any agency of their own.

If you read between the lines, "Churchill" seems to be about a man who is remembered fondly by default and because he was propped up by people stronger than he was.

Biography, at its most useful, disabuses us from myth, but "Churchill" has no such ambitions. As both history and entertainment, it's a drag.

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