Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Starring: Brian Cox
Length: 1hr 45m
As a history student, with a particular interest in modern history, I was overjoyed when I first heard about Jonathan Teplitzky’s planned biopic. Although I was excited there was a part of me that was also anxious. This anxiety derived from the fear that a 110 minute dramatization would fall way short of doing justice to the life of arguably the greatest Briton of all time.
Epic biopics can fall into one of two categories. They are either huge successes like Richard Attenborough’s 1982 portrayal of Gandhi, or huge failures like Oliver Hirschbiegel’s attempt to showcase the life of Diana Princess of Wales in 2013.
In reality Churchill falls into the latter category. Prestigious historical figures deserve a prestigious production. Whereas Richard Attenborough emanates first-class, Teplitzky and Hirschbiegel reach economy standard at best. The simple fact is that from the outset I was not hopeful for a stellar production.
The eponymous title of the film obviously leads to intense scrutiny of the lead actor, Brian Cox. There is no question about the talent of Cox, or his profile. An actor who has appeared in Braveheart, Tron and the Bourne Franchise, as well as receiving acclaim as a thespian for his portrayal of King Lear was in theory a big enough name to tackle the icon that is Churchill. Yet, theory does not always lead to success. Churchill is such a legendary and well-known figure that every schoolchild, parent, teacher, student or just about anybody who has been alive in the past two centuries knows who he is. The former Prime Minister has reached such legendary status that he is known by just one name, Churchill, as reflected in the film.
Cox failed to fill the considerably large shoes of the leader as he was such a distinctive character; a man who had wit spilling out of his ears and a husky voice which is hard to replicate. Despite showing glimpses of this much loved personality, such as in the closing scenes of the film when he delivered a rousing speech, the famed Churchill spirit was lacking throughout. Cox’s performance was comparable to the thousands of actors who dress up as Father Christmas each year- convincing on the surface but deep down you know it’s not real.
Cox’s lacklustre performance was not aided by the disappointing story on which the film was built upon. The film focused on the periods before and after the D-Day landings in June 1944. The production showed the conflict between Churchill and leading military figures such as Bernard Montgomery (Julian Wadham) and the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery).
This conflict was based upon the Prime Minister attempting to avoid a repeat of the disastrous 1915 Gallipoli campaign of WWI in which thousands of allied troops were slaughtered by the Ottoman Empire. Churchill was in charge of the campaign and the film constantly represented the immense mental trauma which he was still struggling to come to terms with and which was guiding his attempts to thwart the proposed D-Day landings. Whilst this was a unique approach taken by Teplitzky and understandable to separate the film from existing knowledge of the leader, it did not make for an enjoyable experience.
The film was missing the bulldog like spirit which Churchill showed during the Blitz, Battle of Britain and landmark speeches which he has become known for. By focusing on such a short period of his leadership which was obviously more tumultuous it resulted in Cox’s performance and the film in general becoming stagnant and forgettable.