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Review: Churchill and a look at the Churchill War Rooms

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Churchill is the most difficult film I’ve ever reviewed.

If Churchill was an entirely fictional film it would be a poor film indeed. Various British actors take time out from playing Hollywood villains or waiting for JK Rowling to write another book series to play people in uniforms talking stiffly and earnestly to each other. Occasionally they talk to each other in cars or woodland, beaches or outside of stately homes. The main character gets sad, and then a plunky young typist sets him straight and then he’s fine.

…and so the question with Churchill is – is it fictional? Because if it’s entirely accurate then it’s a fascinating portrait of the man in the last days before D-Day.

Which made my life difficult because after watching the film I thought… well I’m going to have to read some books now, aren’t I?

So I spent this morning having a fascinating private tour of the Churchill War Rooms (you feel very special going behind the glass… and I feel like the bits I found most interesting I couldn’t have seen from the public areas), which I found out that some parts at least were sensible . At lunchtime I chatted to a Yeoman on HMS Belfast (who has written a book on the topic) who confirmed the story of Churchill and the King’s interaction.

So… truthful enough. Which is nice, because that context helps carry the film and smooths over the rough edges. There are some touches I don’t like (a little bit too much exposition is going on for my taste), and some that made me shed tears. Brian Cox plays Churchill in a nicely understated way – slightly like someone ticking it off a list of ‘things you do before you are knighted’ but very believably. James Purefoy’s King George runs into a timing problem in that he looks like a man doing an excellent impersonation of Colin Firth but the rest of the cast execute their supporting roles perfectly. Only Ella Purnell has any serious acting to do, and it’s bang on target.

Churchill is an enjoyable watch, but unfortunately not a cinema one. It’s production values are solid, but they are closer to The Crown than The Kings Speech. It is also unfortunately brief, which is particularly surprising given the amount of source material: this could have been an hour longer and been a rich detailed look at a man under more pressure than we can imagine.

Overall, this is a pleasant film that, with a bit more ambition, could have been magnificent. If only they had someone to take their ambition from…

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