Churchill : A Film Review


Churchill

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky.  Cast: Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, James Purefoy, Ella Purnell, Richard Durden, Julian Wadham.  Screenwriter: Alex von Tunzelmann.  Producers: Nick Taussig, Paul Van Carter.  Production company: Salon Pictures.  Cinematographer: David Higgs. Production designer: Chris Roope.  Costume designer: Bart Cariss.  Editor: Chris Gill.  Music: Lorne Balfe.  Casting Director: Daniel Hubbard.  Cert. PG, Duration 1 hr 38 minutes


Too important a History to portray wrongly

There are to some unbearable conceits within this film as it twists historical record and contorts speeches and rhetoric making at times a banality of its very gripping subject.  I on reflection, some time after seeing it, do recognise the scoping of the film to place Churchills ‘black dog’ – he practically made this term ubiquitous, handling the tormenting angst of war and its repellant outcome at the heart of a hostorical period.  The twist is that while this film shows it differently, Churchill had come round to the possibilities and the necessities driving the D-Day landings in France.  Here he is depicted at being totally at odds with Eisenhower right up to the daybreak on the final push and landing.

How are errors excused?

The choreography is not too clever as it is diminishing what are very able and extremely well carried performances, not least that of Brian Cox who to my mind comes home in the part.  His inflections, minor facial expressions, language spoken and in his bodily bulk; he put on nearly a stone in weight to get the swaying walk and posture spot on and it convinces immeasurably as a great performance despite the mistakes of script and history.


Light Aircraft etc.

The budget was restricted it seems.  No planes, tanks or ships are shown as this is in some ways a psychological drama in its determination to portray Churchill as a mentally crippled individual full of compassion with a deep dark hole of self doubt and awareness over the magnitude of the role he has.  Firstly as Prime Minister during the war having successfully dealt with the Blitz three years earlier it is now 1944 and D-Day for which years of preparation, a large part of which was the training in places throughout Northern Ireland, Kilkeel , Co. Down being a particularly good example where 8,000 young American airmen went on training missions, trained in dark barns as gunners shooting at projections in the sand and setting up fun attacks on the beach, in the shadow of the Mournes.  The planning was Eisenhower’s own as a Commander of the Allied forces.  Churchill was a politician and strategist.  He tried to hold the moral high ground but was at times considering chemical weapons as a means to defeat the enemy such was his commitment to the UK.


Chaptered we move

The film takes its time scale as chapters of the countdown to D-Day, Operation Overlord, D-Day minus 3 and takes us into the minutiae of the dealings between the leading militarists. Navy, Airforce, Artillery and Eisenhower heading the campaign and responsible for the ultimate decision of when to land.  Some details are overlooked, like the French airman, General Maurice Challe, on the day before D-Day handing over the Luftwaffe order of battle to Britain giving a significant indicator of where the firepower was to be directed while the Allies were planning a precise attack.  They were disposed, in other words elsewhere and surprise was a key element.  Encounters between Dwight Eisenhower (John Slattery) are somewhat theatrically driven and the screen widens to show majestic columns or stately rooms, as locations heightening modern versus old.


The Modern World

Modern Eisenhower uses language which sours in historical terms.  He would never I suggest have been so dismissive with slighted barbs of Winstons role and place at the battlefield table.  His input was invaluable.  This is one of the reasons I think the script has taken a hammering in critics eyes.  Eisenhower would in fact go on to forge an open America having seen Democracy in action in the U.K. and two decades later would be working (when he wasn’t spending half the year on the golf course) with Macmillan in forming alliances to gain access to the Suez Canal.  MI6 and Middle Eastern Committee’s arrived to advance a new world order and to enter the Cold War.  So the script was light on the forging of these continents.  It was the real beginning of Western power gripping modernity and Eisenhower knew it and gained from Churchills wider world view.

The Australian director Jonathan Teplitzk has set up scenes which stand apart, are mini bites of action and dialogue; a quasi chamber piece, from the very beginning where we see the ‘black dog’ staring into the black dark ocean and having visions, to the internal arrangement making of the Palace of Westminster War Rooms and the secretarial recruitment of his dogs body secretary, Miss (Helen) Garret (Ella Purnell) who is hounded for mistakes and if not for the occasional interruption of Clemmie (Miranda Richardson) she would fold under the abuse directed at her.  This itself is overly dramatic but Brian Cox still hold you gripped to the intentions and inner conflicts of compassion, a desperation for things not to fail despite under whose authorship they may proceed.  There are good performances from Julian Wadham as Montgomery and also Richard Durden as the Boer War veteran aide to Churchill, Jan Smuts.  Danny Webb convinces also as Brook.


Spoils of acting

There are several key scenes in which the staging is also placed under a rigid formula of order.  Entrance, disembark, manouevre, engage.  One is set in D-Day minus 3 where Churchill and later King Edward are summoned to the lawns of the American HQ to see the plans laid out on trestle tables.  Montgomery, Brooke’s, Eisenhower, all standing behind their plans.  The sunny day of June is kind and peaceful.  When postulating is over Churchill rails against the plan as I’ll conceived as the landing areas are narrow and forces thin.  The King George VI (James Purefoy) witnesses this and says little.  Another scene which I found to be a fulcrum in the film was one between Churchill and the King.  With recall inevitable of the Kings speech here is a piece of pure acting brilliance as Purefoy arrives unannounced to speak directly with Winston.  What follows is a perfectly scripted speech which is paced and as nuanced as ever you can imagine it precisely to be.  Within it little gold nuggets have you placing this in the historical record.  He refers to his own security mindful of getting too involved as Winston has just earlier recruited him into a dangerous situation.  The King speaks on leaving behind, ‘Lily-Beth who is only 18 years old‘ and we envision the same Lily-Beth all these years later for the umpteenth time – today May – putting another PM in charge.  We envision the young Elizabeth in this grown up world of mutilation and ongoing hardship in the U.K.where sacrifices are incalculable.  It is worth watching the film to see this alone.  Winston with the character now inhabited by Brian Cox is an eloquent, dignified and considerate, conscious foil to this measured in every word, Kings speech.


Preparations

The preparedness for war had been long and hard fought.  As a lone voice with part recognition from Harold Macmillan Churchill saw Parliment deluded by Chamberlain into believing Germany to be, contrary to fact, in poor economic condition.  In 1940 Churchill spoke ‘We “muddled through” the last war, and in doing so, we needlessly sacrificed hundreds of thousands of young lives ……  .  We cannot, we dare not, “muddle through” again’.  Once Chamberlain had been ousted for the falsity of the mounting ‘Phoney War’ and Churchill appointed Prime Minister he summoned Macmillan to create the supply chain and amongst the wares exchanged unbeknown to either ‘heavy water’ arrived from France and the atomic bomb was to emerge.  This is the preset war tableau which Dwight Eisenhower must have been totally aware of and along with that a companion at war was made of Churchill.  No enemy, despite strategic differences in their ages an advances in armaments.   So the film drops the ball conceitedly for cheap dialogue and stand-off.  By the time the change at the head of Government had taken place Hitler had deployed ablitzkrieg on the Low Countries and conquering France.  One month after France signed an armistice legions of British troops were to escape via. Dunkirk.  Soon to be screened will be a depiction of this World War 2 miraculous escape.  When it came round to Operation Overlord when Eisenhower had been summoned back to direct that campaign from America,  Macmillan was ill and out of most War work having brought together a good relationship, in previous years, with Dwight and his right hand man, Bob Murphy who admired him so much he was to write he would ‘become a great representative of your country …. – would make this world a far more attractive habitation’.  That indeed he would progress onto and attempt Post war – giving Churchill the job of building a million homes or more.


D-Day

The deployment of troops is seen from the War room and Miss Garret is stoically still engaged in communications as is Winston.  Overlord has happened and now the numbers of casualties and the extent of success of the invasion would be part of the record.


It’s a Smartphone – you can book your cinema tickets directly through to Queens Film Theatre and be assured of your seat.   They have a good selection of Whiskeys.  You like Black Bush with ice don’t you?

Conclusion ###3

Films in my mind have to have or have the possisibilty of having 5 dimensions.  Firstly the 3 dimensions we sit in, at home or in the cinema or drive-in, as witness to the 4th which is the screen.  Within the vision we see our world or another placed before us and the 5th dimension is when that screen alights with a realm never encountered or one around us never put before us in this theatrical guise.  We are transfixed and know when we have seen something of that far reaching view.  This film has almost the wit and guile the wordsmith Winston Churchill gave us but it falls short hugely as it has a weakness at the third dimension when at times we cannot advance with it from the comfort of our seats and begin to contemplate alternative narratives. Unspoken truths and witnessing conflicts in the false notes we see and hear.  It’s a bit like Gin, an acquired taste.

John Graham

15 June 2017

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre from Friday 16 June through to and including Thursday 29 June 2017.

The Normandy landings (codenamed Operation Neptune) were the landing operations on Tuesday, 6 June 1944 (termed D-Day) of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. … Planning for the operation began in 1943.

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Patton in the Mournes.

The outspoken and larger than life General reached the high point of his career during World War Two, when he led the US 7th Army in its invasion of Sicily and swept across Northern France at the head of the 3rd Army in the summer of 1944. Late that same year, Patton’s forces played a key role in defeating the German counterattack in the Battle of the Bulge, later liberating the country from the Nazi regime. Patton died in Germany in December 1945 of injuries sustained in an automobile accident.
Patton in the Mournes with the 10th Infantry
Patton visited troops to inspect their training in Armagh and Down in March 1944, flying into Greencastle. He was known for his ‘colourful’ speeches, many of which he gave when visiting the troops in Northern Ireland. Women were not allowed in the vicinity when he was giving these talks, as his language was deemed unsuitable!
 

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