Archive for the ‘Churchill (2017)’ Category

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Release Date: October 03, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 105 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio: 5.1 English Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 2.39:1

Notes: A DVD edition of this title is also available.

In June 1944, the Allied Forces stand on the brink of the greatest invasion in history: D-Day and the landing on the beaches of Normandy, France—the first step in the campaign to free Europe from the tyranny of Nazi Germany.

But even as close to one million Allied soldiers are secretly assembled on the south coast of England preparing to invade Nazi-occupied Europe, Great Britain’s iconic Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Brian Cox) struggles with the decision to embark on the operation. Fearful of repeating, on his disastrous command, the mass slaughter of more than 500,000 soldiers during World War I’s Battle of Gallipoli in 1915, he is terrified that if the D-Day landings fail, he will be remembered as the architect of the war’s greatest carnage.

As D-Day approaches, Churchill—exhausted by years of war, plagued by depression and obsessed with fulfilling historical greatness—finds himself at odds with his fellow Allied military leaders-turned-political opponents: U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery) and British Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery (Julian Wadham). Meeting with Churchill in the days preceding the planned invasion, the two grow increasingly frustrated by the fearful and fatigued Churchill’s reluctance to invade and attempts to stop the operation. It is only with the intervention of King George VI that Churchill agrees to move forward with the invasion, with the two discussing the possibility of observing the D-Day landings aboard an operational cruiser.

It is Churchill’s brilliant and unflappable wife Clementine Churchill (Miranda Richardson) who keeps him strong during those dark and possibly dire days. By injecting into her husband ever more confidence, courage, and conviction—and acting as both an emotional blanket and a personal sounding board—‘Clemmie’ halts the exceedingly unwell Winston’s physical and mental collapse, inspiring him to become a true hero of his age and Britain’s most celebrated leader.

The film is directed by Jonathan Teplitzky (The Railway Man, Marcella) from an original screenplay by British historian Alex von Tunzelmann (Medici: Masters of Florence) in her feature debut. The film isn’t a critic’s favorite and has received venomous reviews from those who prefer to measure a film against historical accuracy rather than its dramatic aptitude. Andrew Roberts—a noted Churchill biographer—was especially agitated with the film’s inaccuracies and wrote a diatribe against the film that cited a laundry list of inaccuracies:

“The only problem with the movie—written by the historian Alex von Tunzelmann—is that it gets absolutely everything wrong. Never in the course of movie-making have so many specious errors been made in so long a film by so few writers.

The major error of fact, of course, is that although Churchill did indeed oppose an over-hasty return of Allied forces to north-west France in 1942 and 1943, by the time of D-Day in 1944 he was completely committed to the operation. Indeed in the final briefing for senior officers on 15 May, General John Kennedy noted in his diary how Churchill spoke ‘in a robust and even humorous style, and concluded with a moving expression of his hopes and good wishes. He looked much better than at the last conference, and spoke with great vigor, urging offensive leadership, and stressing the ardor for battle which he believed the men felt.’

In this movie, however, Cox’s Churchill is instead shown shouting at his generals, his wife and secretaries, sweeping food, plates and cutlery off the breakfast table onto the floor, and even praying to God on his knees, all because he wants to stop Operation Overlord but had been overruled by a cabal composed of Generals Dwight Eisenhower, Bernard Montgomery, and Alan Brooke, who despise him. The scene where he prays for bad weather for D-Day (‘Please, please, please let it pour tomorrow. Let the heavens open and a deluge burst forth such as has never been seen in the English Channel. Let the sea churn into peaks and troughs and tidal waves!’) is particularly puerile, considering the hopes that Churchill really had for the success of the operation at the time.

If Ms. von Tunzelmannn had more than a passing understanding of British military-civilian relations or indeed the British constitution she would know that as both prime minister and minister of defense Churchill had the ultimate power over deciding whether Operation Overlord should go ahead, unless this film is attempting to claim that there was a military coup in Britain in 1944. The movie is easily incoherent enough to be claiming that, though without the viewer realizing as much. The anti-American statements von Tunzelmann puts into Churchill’s mouth were also precisely the opposite of his warm views about the special relationship in June 1944.

Brian Cox presents Churchill as a petulant, ill-tempered, sarcastic, unpleasant, decrepit, oafish drunken has-been who was trying to disrupt the war effort and was violently opposed the campaign that was ultimately to liberate Europe, and so, therefore, was totally wrong on almost the single most important military decision of the war. It is a depiction that Dr. Goebbels would have been delighted with, but it flies full in the face of every single account left by those around Churchill at that transcendental time in world history. He is shown shouting at his secretary on 3 June 1944, for example, the very day that his actual secretary wrote in her diary: ‘He looked anxious, but he was amiable.’

In this film, Clementine slaps Churchill in the face and abuses him—even packing her bags with the intention of leaving him—whereas even the most cursory knowledge of their very happy marriage makes that a monstrously unfair and completely untrue depiction. In real life—as opposed to in Ms. von Tunzelmann’s perverse fantasy—on 5 June Clementine wrote her husband a note saying, ‘I feel so much for you at this agonizing moment—so full of suspense.’ Hardly the note of an unsupportive wife contemplating divorce.

In this movie Churchill asks Clementine about their relationship: ‘Is this about the war or is this about you and me?’ and talks about their sex life: ‘I know I haven’t been fully a companion to you. I haven’t made you happy, have I?’ Modern clichés infest the screenplay, most of them cringe-making and profoundly unhistorical. Sadly for such a funny man as Churchill, there is no hint of humor in the entire film, unless you count the absurdity of his remark to Clementine: ‘I would understand if you left me. I’d leave me if I could.’

In this sad and pathetic caricature of the great events of June 1944 we see General Montgomery calling Churchill a ‘bastard’ to his face and accusing him of ‘doubt, dithering, and treachery’; the prime minister isn’t even shown the detailed plans for D-Day until 3 June 1944, whereas in fact, he had known them for months beforehand; Churchill is then depicted as attempting to change the plans at the last minute to include attacks on Bordeaux and in Italy; he is depicted as being sarcastic and dismissive towards Field Marshal Jan Christian Smuts, a man he greatly admired and saying ‘We shall never surrender’ in 1944 (when there was no question of Britain surrendering) rather than in 1940 (when there was).

King George VI (played by James Purefoy) leaves a meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff because the argument was getting too heated; Churchill works lying on his back on the floor, then sits quietly at the rear of meetings that in real life he chaired loquaciously. On at least twenty occasions Churchill is shown lamenting the bloodshed involved in the 1915 Gallipoli amphibious operation, as though the World War II operations of Dakar, Salerno, Anzio and Dieppe—of which I doubt Ms. von Tunzelmann has ever heard—had never taken place.

It doesn’t stop there; Churchill credits General Alexander for taking Rome when in fact he was famously beaten to it by the American General Mark Clark. Eisenhower shouts at Churchill ‘You, sir, must be stopped!’ which would have led to an international incident if it had ever happened. Absolutely not one of these things I’ve listed ever took place. There was a moment when I wondered whether the whole movie wasn’t, in fact, a sophisticated comedy satirizing bad war films, rather than in fact being by far the worst war film I have ever seen.

When bad movies get large things wrong they tend to get the small things wrong too. In this farrago, Cox/Churchill wears white tie and tailcoat in the afternoon; Montgomery is given a field-marshal’s uniform when he was at the time a general; Eisenhower wears British campaign medals; Churchill wears workmen’s overalls rather than his velvet siren-suits; Combined Chiefs of Staff top-secret planning meetings are held in the open air on the lawns of country houses; the great Field Marshal Smuts, prime minister of South Africa and member of the War Cabinet, is presented as little more than a butler; the King salutes the man who opens his car door; Churchill shouts bad-humoredly at an American servicewoman; Montgomery addresses him as ‘Churchill,’ and Churchill says of Montgomery ‘That puffed-up little shit; the men won’t follow him.’

The film is so low-budget that the American Joint Chiefs of Staff are portrayed as not including an airman, and the RAF chief meteorologist Group Captain James Stagg is also asked to take the group photographs of the Chiefs of Staff, as though he wouldn’t have been rather busy doing other things the day before D-Day. Furthermore, Ms. von Tunzelmannn seems to labor under the impression that Churchill listened to battles being broadcast in real time over the radio; that Royal Navy Midshipmen were put ashore in the first wave of attacks on Juno beach and were able to send messages back to their sweethearts that same day saying they loved them; that King George VI flew aeroplanes in the Great War (‘Bloody hell, that was exciting,’ he tells Churchill); that Churchill drank whisky because ‘This is the only thing that brings me peace,’ and most extraordinarily of all that Churchill was against the reinforcing of the Gallipoli expedition in 1915—‘I tried to stop the Gallipoli campaign. God knows I tried’—whereas, in fact, he tried hard to execute it.

The speeches Brian Cox is made to say are cod-Churchillian at best. ‘Hitler is trying to menace us with fire….This is not a war for glory, it is a war for freedom….The most important thing in a war is for people to feel truly united,”’ and so on, and so predictably on.

As a Churchill biographer, I never thought I would be bored by a movie about him, but this one achieved that with its interminable periods of longeur. At one point he puts his hat on a stick and waves it at the waves on a beach. It was meant to be poignant but was only farcical. Even when he drinks a glass of water he is made to say: ‘Oh, how I wish it was scotch. Oh well.’

Ms. von Tunzelmannn has written some good history books, though not about the First or Second World Wars. She also wrote one called “Reel History: The World According to the Movies.” Here she wrote: ‘From ancient Egypt to the Tudors to the Nazis, the film industry has often defined how we think of the past. But how much of what you see on the screen is true? And does it really matter if filmmakers just make it all up?’ She clearly thinks it doesn’t matter, but in fact the power of Hollywood to mould public perception of important moments of the past means that it is a disgrace that the public’s money through Creative Scotland, The National Lottery, and the British Film Institute should have been spent denigrating the greatest of civilization’s heroes in this way.

Of course, all films have to take liberties with the truth, especially low-budget ones with a cast of about a dozen, like this one. But Ms. von Tunzelmann—who once had a column in The Guardian that attacked movies for their historical errors—has twisted the truth about Churchill and D-Day in a truly repulsive way, without ever hinting to the viewer that this is a totally untrue account. Indeed in the opening and closing credits, it attempts to present the drama as factual. It is not; it is fraudulent. The film doesn’t seem to have had a historical consultant. Never has a movie needed one more.

One is prompted to ask why Ms. von Tunzelmann did not just tell the true story about a man and a military operation that was packed with genuine drama, excitement, and courage of such an extraordinary order that it would command universal attention, instead of producing this tripe that can only bring universal derision. When this film states of Churchill at the end: ‘He is often acclaimed as the greatest Briton of all time,’ it seems clear that its makers want the audience’s reaction to be: “But he can’t be great because he got D-Day so badly wrong, the moronic old drunk.” It’s a foul slander, of course, and I suspect they know it.

There is a sense of profound decadence in any society that dishonors its greatest heroes; if this movie is anything but a terrible flop, ours will fully deserve its decline and fall.” –Andrew Roberts (The Churchill Project, May 01 2017)

One can understand why Roberts is angered about the film’s inaccuracies, but his rant seems to villainize its writer much more than is necessary. One doubts if most of the changes were made due to lazy ignorance or poor research. In fact, the film’s publicity materials feature a short essay which was written by Tunselmann about the film’s deviations from what had actually occurred—and this essay (which was written long before Andrew Roberts had even seen the film) addresses several of the inaccuracies mentioned in the Roberts review.

“…I was intrigued by the opportunity to approach him not as the colossus of history, but as a human being. The concept of the film was to look at Churchill’s well-documented yet little-known opposition to D-Day and to use that as a window into his character. As the historian behind The Guardian’s Reel History column, assessing the historical veracity of movies, I was extremely conscious of the compromises and choices that must be made whenever history is brought to the screen. I felt slightly like a gamekeeper turned poacher! I knew we would have to make some changes to the timeline to put Churchill under the pressure he needed to be under to give the film its structure. My priority was to get to the character of a man who acknowledged his lifelong struggle with depression and yet who could inspire a nation; who lived with the guilt of his failures and yet could push through that to victory.

Many historians, including Duncan Anderson, Joseph Persico, and Richard Holmes, have linked Churchill’s fears about D-Day to his traumatic memories of the Gallipoli operation in World War I – something which I, as a New Zealander, and director Jonathan Teplitzky, as an Australian, found particularly striking. In real life, Churchill described his reservations about the invasion of France to Eisenhower in graphic terms: ‘When I think of the beaches of Normandy choked with the flower of American and British youth, and when in my mind’s eye I see the tides running red with their blood, I have my doubts—I have my doubts, Ike, I have my doubts.’ I wanted to focus specifically on this profound concern Churchill had for the men he would send to war; how a leader deals with that responsibility and guilt, especially when in the past it has gone badly wrong.

In real life, Churchill was opposed to D-Day some weeks before it happened in June 1944 but was reconciled to it by the time it occurred. In the film, this timeline has been shortened to increase the tension. For instance, the briefing scene in the film where Churchill objects to the D-Day plans in front of Eisenhower and the king is based extremely loosely on the D-Day briefing of 15 May 1944, which took place at St Paul’s School in London; Montgomery’s angry showdown with Churchill over the D-Day arrangements took place on 19 May at Monty’s headquarters. In the film, the timeline has been telescoped so that these events occur just before the operation itself.

It is true, as in the film that Churchill had the idea very late on of going on the D-Day fleet himself: he wanted to sail to Normandy on HMS Belfast along with the king. The real letter that the king wrote to Churchill on 2 June has been dramatized so that the king comes to Churchill personally and tells him he cannot go. The two early-morning meetings of 4 and 5 June that are featured in the film, are presented more or less as they happened, except in real life Churchill did not attend them. For that reason, he is shown as listening but not speaking at these meetings: a way of bringing out his emotional reaction without interfering with the history too much.

There is some historical evidence that Churchill still felt uneasy about the enormous gamble of D-Day on the very eve of the operation. The night it went off, he said to his wife Clemmie: ‘Do you realize that by the time you wake up in the morning 20,000 men may have been killed?’

The best source I found for the personal difficulties Churchill was going through on the run-up to D-Day were the candid diaries of Lord Alanbrooke—‘Brookie’ in the film. While Alanbrooke was fond of Churchill, he was sharply critical of his behavior in those weeks and months beforehand, commenting on his undue interference, his excessive drinking, and his failing energy levels. Churchill’s secretary in the film, ‘Helen’, is a composite of several real secretaries. Their memoirs show him as a man of mercurial temper: one minute raging at them for not knowing that in his private language ‘klop’ meant ‘hole punch’ (an incident recreated in the film), and the next minute capable of extraordinary tenderness.

And then there is Churchill’s relationship with his wife Clementine. I have used some creative sleight of hand here: the most turbulent period of problems in Churchill’s marriage was between the wars. Clementine is thought to have considered divorce in the 1930s and is rumored to have had an affair. While taking care to avoid that allegation directly, the film does explore the strains that Churchill put on his marriage—and Clemmie, as in real life, is no silent ‘angel in the house’ but a woman of remarkable character—holding strong opinions which were quite independent of her husband’s.

Churchill lived at a time when there was little understanding of mental illness and no medication for it: his self-medication with impressive quantities of alcohol is well documented. For me, the most moving parts of all Churchill’s extensive and revealing writing are about his family and his struggles with mental health. I hope we are now at a stage as a society where we understand better that these struggles are not shameful, and that to explore them is not disrespectful. If anything, the fact Churchill achieved everything he did despite his ‘Black Dog’ only makes him more extraordinary. Though he is a polarizing figure, my hope is that the small snapshot of his character shown in this film intrigues audiences enough to find out more about the real life of this fascinating and complicated man.” -Alex von Tunzelmann (Churchill: The Film and the History)

The debate about how strictly films should follow the real-life events that they are sometimes based upon isn’t new, and one expects these debates to continue as long as films are made. This is certainly a valid issue, but this reviewer has always felt any film that has been “based on a true story” should be judged by the same standards as a work of pure fiction. Does the story work on its own terms? Is it well told? Does it stir the emotions and reveal truths about humanity? Is it entertaining? Does it meet the filmmaker’s supposed intentions? In the case of Churchill, one must admit that the film is a diverting character study that manages to entertain the viewer. It is far from a masterpiece, but it isn’t nearly as terrible as many of the film’s critics have indicated.

One Sheet 2

The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray disc is protected by the standard Blu-ray case with the film’s American one sheet artwork slightly altered and framed by the Cohen Media Group’s “C” logo. It’s really a rather standard presentation.

The animated menus utilize footage from the film with music from the film’s score.

Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The digital cinematography was captured in 2K resolution with a variety of Arri Alexa cameras by David Higgs, and it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to discover that the resulting image is gorgeous. Detail is impressive throughout the film (especially in close to mid-range shots) and colors are representative of the filmmaker’s original intentions. The image is only limited by the original source elements, and the result should please discerning viewers.

Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The sound transfer is equally representative of the film’s original elements. The sound design tends to penetrate Churchill’s subconscious mind in interesting ways. Dialogue is consistently clean and clear, but not particularly dynamic. However, the track makes the most of music, effects, and ambience throughout the film’s duration. It’s a strong but subtle track.

Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

Churchill: Behind the Scenes – (22:38)

This “making of” featurette is surprisingly engaging considering that it is built from standard EPK interviews. The program isn’t especially comprehensive, but it is more informative than one expects. It’s really a nice little addition to the disc.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:22)

The film’s theatrical trailer is also included here. It isn’t especially unique, but it certainly does its job.

One Sheet

Final Words:

Churchill might not be a strictly accurate representation of history, but it works as a character study depicting a man’s internal struggle. Cohen Media Groups Blu-ray release offers an excellent transfer and is the best way to experience the film on home video.

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