We are officially knee-deep into the annual summer blockbuster season, where movie plots do not matter and action is all in the rage. Occasionally, we do get small films that provide a little break from wars between alien robots, friendly neighbourhood superheroes and yellow pill-shaped creatures with speech impediment. These dramas bolster little to no action sequences compared to their flashier blockbuster counterparts, and yet, pack enough display of storytelling for a coherent film. One such example, would be Churchill.
Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, a relatively-unknown Australian director known more in the Australian film industry, Churchill stars Shakespearean actor Brian Cox (Braveheart, Troy) as the titular British Prime Minister during a time of war and great despair. Days before the infamous D-Day Landings, the politician and “Minister of Defence” – as he would often add to his title – charges headstrong between British and American leadership to prevent the largest coastal assault in Allied history from becoming the biggest manslaughter of all time. A well-conceived performance we have come to expect from veteran Shakespearean actors, Cox details of a man of internal conflict; a fighter facing inaction, a man battling against his greatest failure, and a Briton deciding what is his purpose in this war.
From a personal standpoint, this inside look at “the greatest Briton of all time” is even more impactful to anyone who has been given a position of leadership before. The film explores the theme of one’s duty as a leader, that sometimes the great fight one thirsts for in the battlefield is fought away from it. A leader’s duty is not to be a martyr; his duty is not to die with his men, but to inspire them and ensure their deaths are not in honour or pride, but in valour. As Churchill would come to understand, his fight is not at the frontlines – that belongs to the soldiers – but back home as the voice of bravery for the country.
This is very much a war film, albeit without the violent action sequences. To most audiences whom have seen Steven Spielberg’s famous depiction of the D-Day Landings in Saving Private Ryan or any other Hollywood renditions of that faithful event of World War II, the event would still be perfectly etched in their minds, and Churchill need not recreate that effect, but merely tap onto that experience to create a wholly dramatic film about that said war. In fact, the absence of any action sequences creates a more authentic narration of Churchill’s biography, painting him as the voice of the United Kingdom, than a British war hero.
Ultimately, Churchill stands as a stylised BBC special about “the greatest Briton of all time”, carrying the emotions of a biographical drama with the heavy themes of a war film to provide a timely break from the often-times hard-hitting genre of war films. Placing Churchill, a slow film with a focus on dialogue over action, in the middle of the blockbuster season is an odd move, but perhaps that is the intention of the film; it may be no Dunkirk, but it serves as history homework for the coming film.