‘Churchill’ falls into every trap and cliché of the historical bio-pic genre, blatantly enough so that it practically feels like a parody. With just a few casting adjustments, this big sloppy mess could have played like a British version of ‘Walk Hard’.
Sadly, it’s not a joke. This dreck is sincere and, to borrow a particularly British phrase to mock this particularly British failure, it’s absolute pants.
The subject matter for this middlebrow hogwash actually isn’t that bad, which makes the tediously obvious execution all the more infuriating. It’s about Winston Churchill’s struggle, concern, and fears surrounding the Allied forces D-Day attack. That’s obviously a vastly important moment in history, as well as a complex and fascinating chapter in the life of a great man. Too bad that no one involved in the movie attempted to do anything real, meaningful or moving with the material. Instead, it’s a paint-by-numbers rendition of the story that should have been a TV Movie of the Week at most. The biggest and most obviously frustrating flaw is the fact that Winston Churchill wasn’t actually fraught or against the attack by the time the film took place. He was a committed architect. Nonetheless, for the sake of easy drama and simplistic storytelling, the movie pretends that Churchill was wary and uncertain right up until the big day.What nonsense.
The whole thing starts with Brian Cox’s lumbering, cigar-chomping collection of Churchill tics gazing out at a beach and watching the water turn blood red. The scene should be shown in film schools as a textbook example of the very worst and most gratingly obvious form of cinematic symbolism. Sadly, director Jonathan Teplitzky is completely sincere in his depiction of this nonsense and it somehow only gets worse from there. Viewers are treated to such embarrassingly overblown sights as Churchill down on his knees screaming to the heavens and begging for rain to stop the D-Day invasion, or the big guy standing on a staircase with his wife (Miranda Richardson) struggling for the courage to carry on while they’re both distractingly lit from below like German Expressionism. Practically every scene is overwritten, overstylized, overacted, and overdone. The rest of the scenes are just dumb and downright insulting to anyone who actually cares about this slice of history.
Poor Brian Cox obviously relished the opportunity to play such an iconic historical figure that fits his body type. He slants his mouth and furrows his brow to resemble the great Prime Minister, biting on a cigar whenever possible, and chewing the scenery with even more vigor. He performs as if acting is a competition of quantity rather than an attempt to mimic the human experience. It’s a boisterous explosion of theatrical overacting, without a moment that feels remotely naturalistic. Had Cox delivered this performance on stage for an audience that began in the rafters, his volume might have been justified. On screen, it’s obnoxiously overwhelming and does the great actor a disservice.
The movie is designed to be the Brian Cox/Winston Churchill show, so everyone else on screen are supporting players who barely register. No one dares try to act bigger or bolder than Cox (if that’s even possible). Some, like Miranda Richardson, even try to underplay to compensate. None of it helps. Everyone is standing next to a cartoonish exercise in acting excess. They all spit out the corniest possible lines of blatant exposition and moralizing that pummel the ears of audiences and embarrass the actors unlucky enough to be assigned the words.
‘Churchill’ is an absolute mess of a movie. It’s actually a relief that it’s been released after Memorial Day, so that no one can make the mistake of attending the movie out of respect only to watch history get shat on, chewed up, and vomited out. There’s nothing here to recommend, not even for those who enjoy giggling at a bad movie until it turns into a fun experience. It’s an insult to anyone who cares about the facts and a parade of bad melodrama, exaggeration, and blatant lies for anyone hoping for a CliffsNotes history lesson. The fact that somehow this script got funded, dozens of adults with brains and consciences took the time to produce it, and teams of people actually bothered to release and promote ‘Churchill’ is a sad state of affairs for the film industry.
It’s hard to imagine that everyone involved in this turkey thought it would work. Surely someone (especially the poor editor forced to spend a few hundred hours with the footage) must have noticed the avalanche of mistakes. They should have spoken up. The people responsible needed to be stopped. Fortunately, theatregoers are now the last line of defense. They can choose to avoid ‘Churchill’ and let everyone involved know that they should never attempt a garbage fire like this WWII bio-swill again.