A look at Churchill (M)
I’VE always been a big fan of movies based on World War 2 with the escapes from Stalag and similar and the re-creations of the Pearl Harbour disaster and suchlike.
But this one about British wartime PM Winston Churchill (Brian Cox) and the early June lead-up to 1944’s D-Day landings in Normandy doesn’t land the arrow anywhere the target’s centre.
If we believed director Jonathan Teplitzky and script writer Alex von Tunzelman (who should shoulder the biggest blame) Churchill was loud and antagonistic towards Generals Eisenhower, Montgomery and Brooke about their military planning.
Sure, we know as World War 1’s First Lord of the Admiralty Churchill orchestrated the disasters of Gallipoli and Suvla Bay where tens of thousands of Anzac, British and Indian troops were slaughtered by the Turks positioned on the heights.
And he remained haunted by that decision three decades on.
Eisenhower (the Mad Men TV series’ John Slattery) and Montgomery (Julian Wadham) occasionally lose their cool when the old man meddles.
The movie focuses on the three days before the actual invasion begins.
Perhaps the most offensive and puerile cameo has Churchill praying beside his bed at No 10 Downing Street for God to interfere and send down bucket loads of rain to halt the invasion.
That scene was just plain silly.
But for most of the remaining 105 minutes Cox is fine as Winston. He lies on his bed in his dressing gown struck down by depression (true, he called it his ‘Black Dog’), he flies into storming rages (true), he drinks and smokes cigars a lot at all hours of the day (true) and dominates every room he enters, even one filled with high-ranking military officers.
As good as Cox is an even better performance is turned in by Miranda Richardson as Churchill’s wife Clementine.
She tries to make his life tolerable, she strokes his ego and tells him what a great wartime PM he is.
And even though at one stage she starts packing as if to leave Downing Street after he strikes all the breakfast dishes off the dining room table, Clemmie remains by his side.
It’s an ‘only just’ moment, though. Telling herself she must stay on, Clemmie continues to tell Churchill the truth, however distasteful, even about himself.
The King visits Churchill at one stage, also. King George VI (James Purefoy) advises his PM, in gentle but direct tones, that neither he as the Monarch nor Winston as the PM should be on one of the ships in the invasion fleet.
Winston at one stage had told Eisenhower he was going to be present, even if off-shore, at Normandy.
There’s the ever-present threat of a direct air strike on their vessel if they go, King George tells Churchill. Who would lead their stricken nation then, he asks?
Reluctantly, but humbly Churchill agrees with his monarch. They’ll both stay home, in London.
One thing among all this dubious stuff is certain nonetheless. The PM ran through drafts of his speeches with his chief adviser, General Jan Smuts (Richard Durden). South African Smuts suggests words, even phrases. Occasionally Churchill uses these suggestions.
Cox is masterful delivering the radio speech to the nation after the landings had begun.
As we well know Churchill was one of the greatest orators ever and the June 1944 address is sort of like a King’s speech. Cox nails it.
But unfortunately not long after this radio address scene – one of the movie’s highlights – Teplitzky has Cox down on a deserted beach with his bowler hat and walking cane.
Churchill doffs his lid, pokes it on the end of the stick and waves the hat on high.
And like the bedside prayer bit the bowler hat waving scene is just a tad over the top.