Friday, June 16, 2017

Churchill: a fond yet troubling depiction of one man’s burden of leadership

As a child I completed a project on Winston Churchill in primary school. My lasting impression that he was a bulldog of a leader, firmly in control of the country and a political giant who puffed cigars and was perhaps a little too fond of a tipple. (Now as an adult I’m regularly reminded about him when I walk past the blue plaque outside 33 Eccleston Square where Churchill lived for four years with his wife and young family.)

A new film Churchill hits the silver screen in cinemas today. It documents the four days leading up to the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Churchill (played by the actor Brian Cox) wants to fundamentally change the Operation Overlord plans and the intervention of the PM – who is also Minister of Defence – is not appreciated by the military chiefs.

The bulldog politician is irascible, troubled by the ‘black dog’ of depression and alcoholism. His relationship with Clementine (played brilliantly by Miranda Richardson) is strained, although ultimately she is the only person he seems to listen to.

He sleeps long into the mornings. He shouts at a secretary. He insists on driving across the country to visit troops unannounced and demands to be able to address them.

On screen Alex von Tunzelmann’s script introduces us to a driven yet unmanageable politician who is stressed by the state of the war and haunted by his own military failure in Gallipoli. He refuses to allow troops to become cannon fodder being sent to certain slaughter. It’s a very human and fragile Churchill.

The figure whose speeches are still mimicked seems to have lost his speech-writing mojo. The man who was voted the Greatest Briton in 2002 has his leadership called into question.

Two styles dominate the filmmaking: close-ups of Churchill that highlight his furrowed features, and very wide shots that leave human figures wandering like ants across the lower inches of the cinema screen. Smoke bellows from his nose.

Jonathan Teplitzky’s depiction of Churchill and the wartime events may or may not take historical liberties. It may seem to drag even though it’s only 98 minutes long. But it succeeds in portraying the burden of leadership, the curse of being the one that people look to for hope, and the strain of having to give sacrifice purpose.

Churchill is a fond yet troubling film and is being screened in the Queen’s Film Theatre as well as other local cinemas from Friday 16 June.

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