Cinematic Releases: Churchill (2017) - Reviewed

One of the most celebrated figures in British history is Winston Churchill, a stalwart politician who was an integral part of the morale behind the Allied war effort in 1944, culminating in the historic storming of Normandy's beaches. Revered Shakespearian character actor, Brian Cox delivers the performance of his career in Churchill, a beautifully crafted biopic that forgoes the expected dramatic flares associated with its subject matter in favor of exploring themes of trauma, doubt, and resilient patriotism. 

In the days leading up the invasion of Normandy, Winston Churchill is a man becoming undone by the terrors of his past and the demons of his present. With the aid of his supportive, but challenging wife Clementine, Churchill confronts his fears in a mental struggle in which personal honor and the responsibilities of a leader will are irrevocably redefined. Cox gained several pounds and developed two distinct accents, one for speeches and one for conversation in preparation for the role. One of the strongest elements of his performance is its restraint. Churchill is a quiet film about larger than life concepts, akin to Jeff Nichol's Loving and Cox's understanding of this is apparent throughout. His heated exchanges with his wife, portrayed by screen legend Miranda Richardson, are muted thunder while his nightmarish recounting of Gallipoli is an impassioned whisper. Intimate familiarity with Churchill is not required, due to the sincerity in which Cox dances between near madness and conflicted entrenchment. This was an age where living legends confronted one another daily, and witnessing the respectful conflicts between Cox and John Slattery's Eisenhower is one of this film's many humble delights.

James Purefoy has an excellent supporting turn as King George VI and his scene with Cox during the final act is stunning. Ella Purnell rounds out the cast as the human face of the war, the surrogate for the masses who are depending on Churchill to pull England through the Nazi deluge of madness. The attention to cultural detail is impeccable. The victory "V" is always present, a powerful specter that manifests from the hands of playing children to remind Churchill not only of his duties, but of the singular importance of his role in Operation Overlord and its effect on the future of mankind. Alex von Tunzelmann's script features the expected moments of greatness and discord, but it is the moments outside the spotlight where it finds its power. Despite the titanic reputations of the characters, they were ordinary men and women and it is this grounding, but respectful characterization which elevates this picture. 

David Higgs cinematography features jaw dropping wide shots of the beautiful Scottish coastline that reveal the tortured expanse of Churchill's mind. The beginning sequence, which involves Churchill, a blood red ocean, and a graveyard beach, has a surreal quality that instantly reveals to the viewer that this will not be the film they were expecting. The artistic compositions feature robust colors and outstanding set decorations by Neesh Ruben. Whether Churchill is making decisions in the middle of ancient ruins or verbally resisting his fellow Allies in cramped meeting rooms, everything remains unexpectedly simplistic and poetically presented. Many biopics are known for their liberal approach to their subject's lives while others seek flashy and sometimes esoteric means by which to present their stories. The wonder of Churchill is in its calm. Cigar smoke endless swirls around Cox as he ruminates on the failures of a noble, yet flawed past and the uncertainty of a future that an entire country is depending upon him to deliver. 

Bartholomew Cariss's period costume design has the expected elegance of a historical film; however there minute details to almost every ensemble that will be wonderful surprises for viewers who are fashionably inclined. Lorne Balfe's evocative score uses warm, triumphant tones to conceal a somber undercurrent, the perfect companion to Churchill's wounded, but hopeful heart. Ultimately, Churchill is more than a victory on the blood soaked sands of France. It is a victory of the soul.

Coming soon to theaters, Churchill is one of 2017's best films thus far. Featuring alluring visuals, a graceful central performance, and an overwhelming about of respect for its subject matter, this is a film that instills courage for the future and an appreciation for the past.

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-Kyle Jonathan