* Spoilers, pretty obviously by now, spoilers *
What a corker. An amazing film. Perfect casting, beautifully shot, the only slight criticism I can offer is that one or two lines of dialogue felt oddly clunky and expositional. For example, right at the beginning of the film, Churchill (stunningly portrayed by Brian Cox) is standing on a beach. He bends down momentarily and his signature hat flies off his head in the wind, and floats out across a blood-soaked sea. His expression is dark and he says, “I can’t let it happen again.”
As we later discover, those of us whose education never went much beyond the grant-maintained and comprehensive, Churchill served in the First World War, and had a great deal of involvement in Gallipoli. For those who don’t know about Gallipoli, it was a bloodbath on the beaches, a disastrous battle which resulted in the deaths of thousands upon thousands of young men. Of course, we don’t hear the word “Gallipoli” until over an hour into ‘Churchill’, but by that time we know he’s seen something that changed his feelings about military planning.
In terms of “I can’t let it happen again,” I feel Brian Cox is a remarkably talented actor, ostentatiously gifted, and frankly he could have conveyed that sentiment with a look. Perhaps I’m alone in that thought, but I doubt it.
It’s a small complaint.
Miranda Richardson is delightful. As we follow Churchill’s misgivings about the planned invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord, we discover the untold story: that Churchill, who we have all grown up to understand was a national treasure, a hero, the father of the nation, really didn’t want to send Allied troops onto the beaches and risk a second Gallipoli, and that all other commanders of the Allied forces countermanded him at every opportunity. This doesn’t sit well with a modern interpretation of Churchill and his legacy, but perhaps goes some way to humanising a giant of British history: we have all been overlooked, ignored, belittled, patronised, been thrown over in favour of what might be considered ‘lesser men’. And where so many of the military leaders appear to view Churchill as a benign irritation, it’s only his wife Clementine who tells him straight. They have opinions other than his. Perhaps other people are right. Unless he’d rather she coddled him? Of course he doesn’t want that.
It is confounding to consider the idea that one of the greatest orators of all time, whose speeches are known and quoted from to this day, was not listened to.
Where so many others speak about him behind his back, and seem to suggest his ideas should be relegated to the past, at one point Clementine slaps Winston across the face. Not respectful, but at least it’s direct.
Churchill thinks that, rather than attack a Nazi stronghold on the north coast of France, they should instead go for the soft underbelly of Europe – towards Italy, or the Aegean. And it occurs to me – if they had gone with that idea, I might never have met my voluntary granddad, Ivor, who was stationed in Greece during the War.
And that’s the horror of war: when you hear on the news that x-number of people died in an atrocity, or a natural disaster, the numbers don’t necessarily touch you at all, but if you think about the impact one person can make on your life and on, undoubtedly countless, others and then try to extrapolate that impact across x-number of people, the echoes go on forever.
Churchill has tried to secrete himself and the King (James Purefoy – brilliant casting, a wonderful actor, gets the voice dead-on) onto a ship to travel to Normandy with the troops. Of course, this plan is soon abandoned by the King, who really has no choice, the country cannot risk losing both King and Prime Minister in one fell swoop. And once more, Churchill is isolated.
What the film seems to suggest is that Churchill might have had post traumatic stress disorder. It is certainly true that someone who has not seen a war zone really can’t know what it’s like. Even with people in the immediate family who have seen military action, or lived in a war torn state, can’t begin to imagine the smell, the sounds, the sudden and bludgeoning horror of war.
Not being even slightly medically inclined, I can’t begin to offer an opinion on Churchill’s possible PTSD, but to be perfectly frank – I would be surprised if there’s anybody who has seen war up close, and not suffered repercussions of some sort for the rest of their lives.
By the end of the film, Churchill has been railroaded into the campaign. He is convinced by the women in his life, Clementine and his new secretary Miss Garrett, that he must give the speech of his life because no matter how D-Day works out, the people will need to know their leader is with them.
I think we all fall a little bit in love with Brian Cox by the end of this film.
On a side note: on the back of the DVD case, there’s an age restriction, as you’d find on any other DVD. ‘Churchill’ is rated PG because of mild strong language (which is understandable in war, surely) and scenes of smoking.
Scenes of smoking! Do we really need warning about this? The sight of Churchill was marked out by the following: his stature as a relatively square man, his hat, the V sign, and his cigar. You can’t possibly have Churchill without a cigar, but why do we need warning?
It was the 1940s. The toddlers smoked.