Joe Wright loves a period piece, and he returns back to World War Two here to focus on Winston Churchill (after Atonement in 2007). There seems to be a fascination with him recently, and he’s played wonderfully by John Lithgow in The Crown. Perhaps our fascination with him comes from the fact that in a more liberal society, we question his conservative values. Or maybe it’s because we begin to understand what strange habits he had, both socially and physically (drinking from the start of the day). Overall the events of WW2 appear so maddening to us today, that is quite interesting to look deeper into the legends of the time and see the human of them. This film is set just as Churchill becomes the Prime Minister, as he struggles through the early days of the war – including his attempts to solve the Dunkirk fiasco.
Gary Oldman is of course great in the leading role. To act with such intensity, and vulnerability, under a serious amount of prosthetics is a remarkable feat. He manages to lose himself behind all the make – up, and after his introductory scene Oldman himself is never present. It should be noted that this is a version of Churchill he is playing, that is often brash and clumsy but also very energetic (some of the better parts of the film are him ferociously walking down corridors). This is definitely Oldman’s film, though the rest of the cast are also convincing. Kristen Scott Thomas as his wife Clemmie is really lovely in the quieter scenes, and I think Ben Mendelsohn is back to his best as King George VI. Overall the smaller moments between these characters were nice, but the films issue is that there’s not much more than that.
It suffers from a saturation problem. By that I mean we’ve already had Churchill examined in The Crown and the evacuation of Dunkirk done excellently in Dunkirk, as well as Wright’s earlier film Atonement. We know exactly what’s going to happen and it’s all been shown recently, so to be interesting Wright has to delve into something different. He tries with his direction, and this is a beautifully shot film, with kinetic film-making throughout. However the film still relied too heavily on plot. It built the drama through dilemmas surrounding the war, and political backstabbing rather than anything too character based. This led to a very dull middle to climax period where you are just waiting for the acts to unfold. Then the only character resolution or turn comes in the form of a desperately contrived scene on the tube, which is almost painful to watch.
There is nothing that totally annoys me in this film, like there is in Three Billboards and All the Money in the World, but I can see it being pretty forgettable. It’s simply a solid Oldman performance, along with some really eye-catching direction, that is guiding you through an ordinary narrative.
Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?
No (only because we aren’t seeing anything new).