As Winston Churchill walks on the beach, he has visions of death. The water is red with blood, and it gets bloodier and bloodier. His wife, Clementine, calls him back. But the nightmare is not over. As he walks back, the beach is strewed with dead soldiers. The young men who died on the beaches of Gallipoli in 1915. But it’s June 1944 now, and Churchill is the British Prime Minister. As preparation for D-Day is underway, Churchill (Brian Cox) is afraid that the Allied forces are about repeat the same mistake. It is estimated that over 50,000 allied soldiers were killed, 34,000 of them British, in the disastrous 1915 Battle of Gallipoli. Churchill took much of the blame as one of its political and military engineers. So Churchill, 70 years old in 1944, is determined to stop the Normandy landings. He is coming undone. Even more frustrating for him is the fact that nobody seems to agree with him. His assistant, Field marshal Jan Smuts (Richard Durden), is trying to reason with him. His frequent confrontations with American General Dwight D. Eisenhower (American actor John Slattery from TV’s Mad men) and British Field marshal Bernard ’Monty’ Montgomery (Julian Wadham) are only makes him look like an old fool. Even King George VI (a stuttering James Purefoy) visits Churchill and tells him to stop his campaign. D-Day will happen. His wife, Clementine (Miranda Richardson) won’t let her husband out of her grips. Especially when he drinks too much or angrily yells at a young new secretary (Ella Purnell). She forcefully tries to avoid a mental breakdown from happening. But it seems unavoidable. The production values (sets, costumes, photography, score) are tops here. I am not being an expert on the historical accuracy of the story. But screenwriter Alex von Tunzelmann is also a historian, so it may be only a small footnote in history that gave her a cue write this intriguing concept. But the real draw of Churchill is the excellent performances of the two leads. After last year’s disastrous film The carer, it’s nice to see Cox finally find a part worthy of his considerable talent. In Churchill, Cox is in every scenes. He is the symphony orchestra conductor, setting the rhythm and the nuances, making sure the balances of every details are right. Quite a feat. Richardson’s Clementine Churchill is cold, calculating and fierce. She is not to be messed with. But later on she can also be committed to loving her husband no matter what. Soon to come there will be another film called Darkest hour with Gary Oldman and Dame Kristin Scott Thomas as Winston and Clementine, and Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI. And maybe a soon battle royal at the Oscars. Who knows?
Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema on August 19 & 20
Alex von Tunzelmann
Rated Parental Guidance