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based on a true story | by maryann johanson

Churchill movie review: stumbling over truth

Churchill red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
This low-stakes, emotionally limp portrait may be intended to humanize a towering, almost mythic figure, but instead just needles and undercuts him.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): love the cast
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

A ticking-clock thriller following Winston Churchill in the 96 hours before D-Day” is how you may see this film being sold. Don’t believe it. A portrait of the British Prime Minister in the days before the launch of the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, Churchill could, if we’re being generous, be called intimate and leisurely, which even so hardly makes for an exciting time at the movies. But the film is more fairly deemed small scale, low stakes, and emotionally limp. Historian Alex von Tunzelmann, making her screenwriting debut, explores Churchill’s (Brian Cox: Morgan) well-documented opposition to D-Day, a position that is at odds with his reputation as one of the great political heroes of World War II… and thought it appears that the film may be intended to humanize a towering, almost mythic figure, it comes across more as a needling way to undercut him. “The Untold Story of D-Day” — as Churchill’s subtitle goes — is mostly just about how the politician felt about invasion plans that he had no strategic input on and no standing to forestall; he seems to have opposed D-Day partly because they reminded him of on-the-surface similar campaigns he was involved in during WWI that went badly wrong, and he worried about his future reputation if this one went wrong; and partly due to his depression and alcohol abuse (which we’d probably see today as self-medicating) that led him to alternately lash out and zonk out, withdrawing to sulk alone. Director Jonathan Teplitzky (The Railway Man) doesn’t seem to know how to restrain Cox’s histrionics… or perhaps he encouraged them in an attempt to lend more weight to a story that has little of its own. The result is a movie that doesn’t so much run out of steam but never develops any in the first place.tweet


red light 2 stars

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Churchill (2017) | directed by Jonathan Teplitzky
US/Can release: Jun 02 2017
UK/Ire release: Jun 16 2017

MPAA: rated PG for thematic elements, brief war images, historical smoking throughout, and some language
BBFC: rated PG (mild bad language, scenes of smoking)

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    von Tunzelmann’s pieces in the Guardian about the historical accuracy of films have often been fascinating.

    The trailer for this reminded me of history as I got it at school (in the UK, 1970s and 1980s). Presumably as a deliberate attempt to prevent any sort of hero-worship, any significant person was always introduced feet-of-clay first, especially if they were white and/or male: if school history had dared mention the Second World War, which it didn’t, the first things we’d have heard about Churchill would have been the drinking and general bad behaviour.

    I suspect that most of the British people potentially watching this will be my age and younger. They won’t have the picture of the hero-Churchill to build a contrast with. This will just be more of what they’ve already been told.

    Is it different in the US?

  • Bluejay

    if school history had dared mention the Second World War, which it didn’t

    Wait, what? Why not?

  • RogerBW

    My guess is a combination of “we all grew up being bored about it by people slightly older than us, therefore everybody knows about it and we don’t need to teach it” and “we don’t yet know what the historical consensus will be”.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Well, Churchill has been dissed in movies before…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjCGpBUCOOM

    …but never this extensively. Unless, you count Gallipoli — a movie in which he is never directly mentioned or shown — as an example.

  • Tonio Kruger

    I suppose there’s no point in quoting the obvious retort from Santayana

  • von Tunzelmann’s pieces in the Guardian about the historical accuracy of films have often been fascinating.

    I’m sure that’s true. But historical accuracy on its own doesn’t automatically make for a great story.

    History in American schools is a complete disaster. It’s all hero-worship and manifest destiny.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Too much influence from the Basil Fawlty School of History?

  • John Chatfield

    A silly movie that was written by a fool with no idea of the way live was in 1944 and how the British lived, behaved, spoke and thought.
    To think Montgomery would dare talk to Churchill in the manner depicted in this third rate movie is absurd also to think Mrs Churchill would behave as in written is every bit as crazy. That was two hours of my life totally wasted.

  • RogerBW

    von Tunzelmann comments in passing on the script here:

    https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jun/09/winston-churchill-black-dog-films-gary-oldman-brian-cox

    If as it appears she wanted to concentrate on Churchill’s internal struggle with depression, I suspect she failed.

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