Much has been written, filmed and even sung about both the “The War To End All Wars” and the equally horrific Second World War that ensued. From tragic Saving Private Ryan to sombre Schindler’s List and the moving Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, just to name a few portrayals of the World Wars that the film industry has offered, there’s been a myriad of filmic interpretations covering almost every aspect and angle of the Wars and a plethora of references to the subject in other mediums right across the popular culture spectrum over the past few decades.
Now imagine a film wholly about the World Wars, without actually showing any violence or warfare.
Hard to picture, right? Though it won’t be the only film ever to concentrate on the damaging effects of war without actually depicting any violence, that’s what made Churchill such a refreshing watch.
From the onset of watching it at the newly refurbished Square Chapel (which deserves a cheeky plug, being one of Halifax’s best kept secrets), it became clear that Churchill is very much the legendary Prime Minister’s story, the unveiling of the man behind the myth.
If like me, when a film you go see is named after a person, you assume they’ll be flashbacks or a whole biopic picture of their life from early childhood, documenting their life’s work and experiences, until they’re popping their cloggs on their death bed. Churchill, however focuses on a very prominent snapshot of Winston’s life- 96 hours before D-Day, when Allied Forces began to liberate Europe from Nazi control on the shores of Normandy.
The film is very much dialogue-driven, which is rather apt given that Churchill slowly learns that his role as a wartime leader isn’t to lead from the battleground alongside his country’s men but to unify the nation, bolster his people and lift spirits and morale through rousing speeches and empowering words.
Accomplished Scottish actor, Brian Cox seemed to be in his element as Churchill and thrived in delivering a poignant and powerful performance as a hunched and haunted figure, weighed down by the scars and sorrows of the First World War, in which he fought and dogged with the pressures of being a stable and comforting figurehead during the Blitz, for which he was hailed a hero.
Often shrouded in his signature cigar smoke, the Churchill presented is, interestingly, mocked by the Naval and Military Commanders of the Allied Forces for his reluctance to endorse Operation Overlord – the Allies’ secret plans for what would become known the world over as D-Day. Often referring back to events in the First World War earns Churchill a reputation for being a somewhat relic of a bygone age, with there being almost a three decade gap between the two Great Wars.
Bearing in mind Chruchill is only one interpretation of the wartime leader’s life from the eyes of Director Johnathan Teplitzky it does a great job at exploring the far extremities of Winston’s complex personality. Nowhere else is this truer than through his relationship with his wife ‘Clemmie’ (Miranda Richardson) and young secretary Helen Garratt (Ella Purnell). Showcasing his occasional bullying and intimidating traits, Churchill is seen to have frequent outbursts at his secretary’s incompetence, yet goes the extra mile to find out the fate of her midshipman fiancé.
Heavy themes of duty and responsibility are apparent within his complex relationship with his supportive and sometimes, emotionally-neglected wife. From the abrupt and stinging slap she serves him as he confides how he sometimes longs for the glory of being a great wartime leader at the heart of the action, to the way he desperately asks her ‘Who will I be?’ if he stops fighting, Richardson paints an picture of an often underestimated aspect of duty – that of a wife who must spur on her husband who also happens to be the Prime Minister leading a country in the biggest war it’s ever experienced but is prone to bouts of depression, has a love for scotch and slight tendency to indulge in moments of self-pity and indignant outbursts.
Rather amusingly, she plays Clemmie as a no-nonsense type that practices the infamous Wartime British ‘just get on with it and carry on’ attitude. It’s definitely a welcomed thing to witness a weathered relationship based on respect and companionship and deep-rooted understanding rather than the excitement of hot young love and the cliché ‘getting the girl’ chase so often seen in films.
While the guilt he harbours for being involved in leading men to their deaths in 1915 is hammered home by evocative scenes of his trademark bowler hat floating in the sea tinged red with blood at the start of the film and his outcry to Clemmie of ‘Their blood soaks my hands!’, the film is lightened by the script, which is witty at times, with Winston throwing some great one-liners out there like ‘God I wish this was scotch’ as he drains a glass of water after a speech.
If action and thrill is more your thing, you’re probably better off waiting for Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk released later this month, but if, like me, are a wee bit of a history nerd, then this will certainly be one to add to your watch-list.