Churchill – A preview of the Wednesday film

Winston Churchill, consumed with guilt over the tragedy of Gallipoli, remained opposed to the D-day Normandy invasion of 1944 up until the eve of the landing. Famously, it was judged the turning point of the Second World War, but that was with the benefit of hindsight. It could have gone horribly wrong, so who’s to say Churchill didn’t have a point?

Historian Alex von Tunzelmann, in her debut screenplay, focuses not on who was right, so much as why Churchill failed to win the argument. Her blunt conclusion is that he was already yesterday’s man, a figurehead speechmaker grandstanding for professional soldiers that knew better. It’s a controversial thesis, but is persuasively played out with a cool logic that has more than a touch of King Lear about it, and is immeasurably helped along by a brilliant central performance from Brian Cox (as Churchill), buttressed by sterling support from Miranda Richardson (as his wife Clemmie) and John Slattery (as Eisenhower).

The movie has been heavily criticised for what it dares to surmise, as if the lionised Churchill is beyond re-examination, and that is inexplicable. Far from damaging his reputation, director Jonathan Teplitzky has humanised the man. If Churchill really was as fragile and contrary as this film suggests, doesn’t that make what he assuredly did achieve all the greater?

By David Vass