Churchill Reviewed By Jon E Clist

The Premise
June 1944. Allied Forces stand on the brink: a massive army is secretly assembled on the south coast of Britain, poised to re-take Nazi-occupied Europe. One man stands in their way: Winston Churchill. Behind the iconic figure and rousing speeches: a man who has faced political ridicule, military failure and a speech impediment. An impulsive, sometimes bullying personality - fearful, obsessive and hurting. Fearful of repeating, on his disastrous command, the mass slaughter of 1915, when hundreds of thousands of young men were cut down on the beaches of Gallipoli. Obsessed with fulfilling historical greatness: his destiny. Exhausted by years of war and plagued by depression, Churchill is a shadow of the hero who has resisted Hitler's Blitzkrieg. Should the D-Day landings fail, he is terrified he'll be remembered as an architect of carnage. Political opponents sharpen their knives.

The Review
There wouldn’t be many of us in existence in the western world who couldn’t throw out something in the form of a Winston Churchill quote. Whether it be the classic, “We will fight them on the beaches…”, or perhaps the supposedly famous story of him saying he would drink a rude lady’s poisoned tea*. He is a famous persona in the hallways of history and certainly played a massive part in the half century of war from the Boar Wars through to World War II. Of course, by the time we got closer to the end of the Second World War, he was a very elder statesmen and hence the rigors of age had certainly started to kick in. For most of us this is a Churchill that we are not familiar with and watching this unfold in front of us in this film is strangely hard to take.

Brian Cox is so magical in this pivotal role and he brings such magnitude and yet vulnerability to the character. Here is a powerful man who is drastically losing his effectiveness and certainly his impact. The more he tries to take firm hold of his sphere of control, the more it slips from his grasp. Watching Cox inhabit the role of Churchill had me there, alongside him, feeling his pain and frustration while at times wanting to slap him and tell him to wake up to himself.

It is interesting to know that Olivier Award winning lead actor Brian Cox learned the entire script as a single piece, rather than memorizing scene by scene. So you could say that h approached it more like a stage play than a film and there are certainly moments when the word-heavy script has that stage feel with highly charged monologues and well directed prose. Specifically, there is a scene where Churchill is kneeling and praying out to God for Churchill’s will to be done. You could very easily imagine this scene to be played out on the stage with a simple bedroom set and cheers from the live audience.

Although I never met Churchill, for I am much too young and located in the wrong country. I certainly felt that Cox not only in character but also physically owned this role. He gained 22 pounds for the role so that the look was natural and so that he was not wearing a fat suit with latex. Absolutely brilliant and worthy of an Oscar Nomination.

Of course, a central role such as this can only exist in brilliance if the surrounding roles successfully do their jobs and Miranda Richardson charms as Clementine Churchill with a stately allure that tickles the soul. While Churchill struts through the rest of the supporting characters each must in turn delicately dance around him and his enormous ego. Done to perfection by James Purefoy as King George VI, John Slattery as Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Durden as Jan Smuts. If any of these roles weren’t cast perfectly the story could have easily derailed.

*This joke has been evolving for more than one hundred years. In March 1900 the humorist Marshall Pinckney Wilder asserted authorship of the gag. By April 1900 a version with a comical Irishman was circulating. In 1902 a theatrical production switched the roles of the husband and wife.

In 1949 an instance with Winston Churchill delivering the punchline to an unnamed woman was printed in “The New York Times”. The story with Nancy Astor and Winston Churchill was recounted in a 1952 book called “The Glitter and the Gold”. It is conceivable that Churchill employed this line, but he would have been knowingly or unknowingly re-enacting a joke that had been circulating for many years.

The Verdict
A spectacular look at a central moment and persona in the history of the world. Brian Cox is absolutely brilliant.

The Trailer

The Info
Releases: 15th June 2017
Rating: PG - Contains coarse language
Duration: 98 minutes 
Genre:  Drama, True Story
Starring: Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, James Purefoy, Julian Wadham, Richard Durden, Ella Purnell, Danny Webb
Director: Jonathan Teplitzky (The Railway Man, Burning Man)

The Extras
One of two films being released in 2017 centered around Winston Churchill. The other being Darkest Hour (2017), with Gary Oldman.