An air of artificiality hangs over this populist portrait of events leading up to D-Day.


Brian Cox


Brian Cox is a fine actor who has not really gained the renown that he deserves. Bad luck has played a part in this and nothing epitomises that more than the fact that Anthony Hopkins hit the jackpot playing Dr Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, a performance hardly better than Cox's interpretation of the same role five years earlier in Manhunter yet the one that is famous.


Now Cox gets the chance to play Winston Churchill who, as one would expect, is utterly central to this new film directed by Jonathan Teplitzky. But still luck is against him for Cox, despite a thoughtful and considered portrayal, is let down by the tone of the film. For this the blame is probably to be divided equally between the director whose 2013 film The Railway Man illustrated his willingness to add gloss to a true story and the writer who in this case is Alex von Tunzelmann.


The opening of Churchill is positively bizarre: a beach scene that begins realistically but then, echoing Churchill's anguished memories of lives lost at Gallipoli in 1915, shows the sea turning to blood while also making grotesque play with Churchill's hat (the last scene of all will echo this!). Between times, an air of contrived drama pervades the film. An extreme example comes in an overwritten scene showing Churchill praying to God for bad weather to hold back a D-Day plan of which he disapproves. Meanwhile, Lorne Balfe's music score is a persistent presence that is at odds with any sense of the truth of what we are seeing. Indeed, there are times when the film's self-conscious approach brings a sense of unreality to discussions that actually did happen, such as the proposed presence at the landings of both Churchill and George VI.


But, even if the tone had been more apt, the film would still be undermined by the writing. One understands that Alex von Tunzelmann's aim was to show Churchill's greatness but also to portray his increasing frailty and fallibility. This has led to an exclusive concentration on the time in 1944 when, under the codename of Operation Overlord, plans were in hand for the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. With the subsidiary roles no more than sketched in, the focus is on the great man himself and, if he needs careful handling and guidance from his wife (Miranda Richardson), even that role gives the actress less opportunities than one would wish, although she does get to slap him! But attempting to show the two sides of Churchill defeats the writer since the film initially seems to bring him forward as a hero figure who alone knows how Operation Overlord should be drastically rethought - but then we find his ideas ignored, and that proves to be the right decision. The film does lead on to the inspiring speech that Churchill gave after the event but, far from being an insightful and subtle portrayal of weaknesses that came to co-exist with fading but true greatness, the film's narrative seems totally at odds with the final written declarative that many regard Churchill as the greatest of all Englishmen. Nostalgia for the period may help some older audiences to take to the film, but it is sadly misjudged and not even Cox can overcome that.




Cast: Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, Ella Purnell, Julian Wadham, Richard Durden, James Purefoy, Danny Webb, Jonathan Aris, George Anton, Steven Cree.


Dir Jonathan Teplitzky, Pro Claudia Bluemhuber, Nick Taussig, Piers Tempest and Paul Van Carter, Screenplay Alex von Tunzelmann, Ph David Higgs, Pro Des Chris Roope, Ed Chris Gill, Music Lorne Balfe, Costumes Bart Cariss.


Salon Pictures/Cohen Media Group/Silver Reel/Tempo Productions/Embankment Films/LipSync Productions-Lionsgate UK.
98 mins. UK/USA/Switzerland. 2016. Rel: 16 June 2017. Cert. PG.