Monthly Archives: June 2017

Review – Churchill (PG) [2017]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Jonathan Teplitzky – Better Than Sex, Burning Man, The Railway Man

Cast:

  • Brian Cox – Bourne I & II, Coriolanus, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Her, Strange But True
  • Miranda Richardson – Empire of the Sun, The Hours, Harry Potter IV & VII(i), Belle, The Happy Prince
  • John Slattery – Madmen, Iron Man II, The Adjustment Bureau, Spotlight, Captain America III
  • Richard Durden – The Bill, Trial & Retribution, Agora, The Awakening, Dickensian
  • Julian Wadham – The English Patient, Exorcist: The Beginning, The Iron Lady, The Happy Prince
  • Danny Webb – Alien III, Valkyrie, The Bill, Locke, Pegasus Bridge
  • James Purefoy – A Knight’s Tale, Rome, Ironclad, High-Rise, Interlude In Prague
  • Ella Purnell – Never Let Me Go, Maleficent, Kick-Ass II, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, UFO

Music Composer:

  • Lorne Balfe – Ironclad, Terminator Genesys, The Lego Batman Movie, Ghost In The Shell, Horse Soldiers

Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Britain 1940-45 & 51-55, has been mythologised. “History will be kind to me if I write,” Winston once said. Well, he did write it: a six volume series about World War II after it concluded. Unsurprisingly, history has been very kind to him ever since and Churchill has gone down as a legendary war hero that would fit right into Ancient Greek mythology. But what was he actually like as a person? Director Jonathan Teplitzky gives us an answer, but not without issue.

Winston Churchill (Brian Cox), smoking a Churchill cigar, contemplating events of two decades past as he walks along the beach.

Churchill is a drama centred round Winston Churchill (Brian Cox) in the days leading up to D-Day (6th June 1944). The movie opens with Winston walking along a beach, remembering the failed Gallipoli campaign during World War I, when he was responsible for the death of more than 150,000 Allied soldiers. Winston is tormented by these memories; the loss of life weighs heavily on his shoulders. This causes him to obstruct Operation Overlord, the proposed invasion of Normandy, as he does not want another slaughter on the beaches.

Churchill makes for interesting viewing. The film casts Winston not as the myth we know, but as the human being he was. He still has the haughty sense of humour that went hand-in-hand with his self-conceit, the great oratory skills, and the bulldog hunch of a man on a mission, plus he chews/smokes enough of his famously long cigars to get lip cancer by the end of the movie’s 105-minute running time. Yet, Churchill also portrays him as a ‘has been’ and deeply flawed. The Winston here cannot understand why people don’t listen to him; is an alcoholic after being worn down by four years of war; a bully to his secretary (Ella Purnell); a poor, inattentive husband to his wife, Clemmie (Miranda Richardson); and a pain in the backside to the British and American generals. (All the film-makers needed was to add Churchill’s racism and then it would have been complete.)

Winston, smoking a cigar, lectures an unimpressed-looking General Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery), who was the Supreme Head of the American (and Allied) forces in Europe during WWII. He clashed with Churchill often as the war went on.

The way Churchill is portrayed in the movie, though, is generally thought-provoking, and it is fascinating to see how his past experiences affect his decision-making. But when it comes to the preparations for Operation Overlord, Churchill takes events past the point of credulity (and probably historical accuracy too) by showing us that he was vehemently opposed to the D-Day plans, per se. It is true that in 1944 Winston had doubts over whether the Normandy landings would succeed (which could easily be coupled with how many men he feared would die in the operation, whether it succeeded or not). This is understandable (and moral), even without him being haunted by the events of 1915. Nevertheless, this is different from being categorically against even the idea of the operation. The academic, Nigel Hamilton, argues that the Prime Minister disagreed with the Normandy landings until he got an agreement from the Americans about working together on the nuclear bomb. This makes sense in the grander context of the era (which Churchill does not explain), and if the film would have gone down this route it would have demonstrated Winston’s political acumen. But it doesn’t. Instead, the movie has us believe that the Prime Minister prayed for God to unleash the heavens, biblical-style, so that D-Day would be called off. This does not seem to glove with Winston’s personality, and one wonders whether the film-makers had an ulterior motive for this perspective. (Anti-atomic weapons, anti-war, perhaps?)

Another problem with Churchill is that every line Winston delivers is spoken vociferously, as if to an auditorium (or history). This may have been what Churchill was like, but for a drama this should have been toned down. Before long, Winston’s need to practice his oratory for even the most banal of issues becomes tedious and risible. (It also makes viewers think that Teplitzky once read a book on Churchill’s hundred most famous quotes and tried to throw in as many as possible.)

Winston and Clemmie (Miranda Richardson) on the steps. Leading Britain and the Empire through the war takes its toll on Churchill and it is then that he needs his wife’s unfailing support. But only on his terms.

Otherwise, one can admire much about Churchill. The script is really good for what it aims to achieve, and it is humorous in the right places too. The cinematography of beaches, countryside manors, palaces and bunkers, is apt and gives viewers a decent taste of Churchill’s working environments during World War II. Furthermore, the actors all play their parts well, masterfully so in the cases of Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson. More than anything, it is through Richardson’s character/Clemmie that we see how difficult Churchill was as a person; that the gallant war hero of popular culture is just the myth that he created.

All-in-all, Churchill is a stimulating drama. It shows Winston Churchill as a man, plagued by the horrors of the Gallipoli disaster and intoxicated by whiskey and the paradox of his virtuoso and his doubts. However, one cannot escape the feeling that the film exaggerates the Prime Minister’s views on Operation Overlord at best, and gets them wrong at worst. To depict Churchill as utterly against the concept of an Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France seems implausible; especially, if we are to believe that this is the same man who was hell-bent on the obliteration of Hitler’s Germany.

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Review – My Cousin Rachel (12a) [2017]

Star Rating: 2/5

Director

  • Roger Mitchell – Notting Hill, Changing Lanes, Venus, Le Week-End

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Rael Jones – White Lie, Suite Française, Harlots, Noor

A psychological thriller should play with the viewer’s mind. The audience should not know the past or the motives of the key characters until they are revealed at crucial moments in the film. It is what gave movies like Basic InstinctGone Girl and Elle an edge and keeps viewers on their toes. My Cousin Rachel is a psychological thriller, but it is so dull. Why?

Philip (Sam Claflin) and Rachel (Rachel Weisz) awkwardly talking over tea upon meeting.

The film is based on the 1951 book with the same title by Daphne du Maurier. Philip (Sam Claflin) is raised by his cousin after his parents die when he is young. Now, almost old enough to inherit his cousin’s estate, he learns that his cousin died shortly after marrying a woman called Rachel (Rachel Weisz).

Philip believes that Rachel murdered his cousin and is enraged to find out that she will be coming to live at the estate. However, his feelings soon get complicated as he becomes infatuated with her, all the while wondering if Rachel will do the same to him as she did to his cousin…

My Cousin Rachel is a psychological thriller set in Jane Austin-era England. Nevertheless, its edge is immediately blunted when our central protagonist, Philip, narrates ‘did she or didn’t she,’ before proceeding to tell us the entire backstory of the movie up to the moment when he learns of his cousin’s death. This ruins the film and ignores the first rule of film-making: show, don’t tell. The audience does not need to have the backstory spelled out for them so early on and this information should have been dished out at the appropriate moments during the film. As a result, the audience’s curiosity of how the characters have come to this point, and how they have come to be who they are, is lost.

The terrible opening is just the start, though, as My Cousin Rachel goes downhill from then on. This is irritating because the film has a captivating premise. A man who falls in love with the possible murderer of his father-like figure should make for a compelling watch as the protagonist’s feelings should drive him to madness. Yet, the movie misses this open goal. Instead, it steers off course and becomes a nauseating calamity about a young man desperate for the attentions of an older woman. What on earth made Director Roger Mitchell think that that would make for a good psychological thriller?

Louise (Holliday Grainger) looking on sadly, as if she feels that she is losing her friend, Philip, to Rachel.

In case that were not bad enough, Philip is implausibly stupid and highly immature. He makes illogical and irrational decisions that test the patience (and the sympathy) of the audience. When a viewer starts to feel their patience wearing thin with the central protagonist, one begins to wonder why they should keep watching him and the film, unless the supporting cast make it worthwhile.

Sadly, this is a mixed bag. Ian Glen brings charm and gravitas to My Cousin Rachel with his Ser Jorah Mormont-voice that can melt butter. Glen does his utmost best with the (limited) script and time he has been given, and it is to the movie’s detriment that he is not given more to do. His on-screen daughter, Holliday Grainger, is unremarkable as the female support for Philip. One has sympathy for her character/Louise and this works in Grainger’s favour. However, Louise’s demeanour reminds one of Grainger’s past roles as Lucrezia Borgia and Anastacia in The Borgias and Cinderella, respectively. This taints Louise adversely. The sense that she may have an ulterior motive is never far from the viewer’s mind, especially as My Cousin Rachel is (or at least is supposed to be) a psychological thriller.

Nonetheless, Glen and Grainger are peripheral characters. It is Rachel Weisz as the titular Rachel that one looks out for. And Weisz is unusually poor here. Her chemistry with Claflin is non-existent and Rachel does not come across as manipulative or dangerous. This makes one wonder what her purpose is to the story (other than to be Philip’s fascination). It is not all Weisz’s fault that she comes across badly. The director does not give Rachel the screen-time or the script to demonstrate her true colours. But, still, Weisz looks disinterested throughout, and this negative energy emanates onto the audience who feel the same way about the film.

Nick (Ian Glen, left) giving Philip some much needed advice about Rachel, as she may not be who she seems.

  My Cousin Rachel, though, is not without its positives. The Cornwall countryside is wondrous to behold and the Victorian, aristocratic mansion that Philip lives in is dark and creepy. These features create a noir atmosphere that is tailor-made for a great psychological thriller. But cinematography alone cannot carry a film, even if it is used to its maximum potential.

Over-all, My Cousin Rachel is a disappointing movie. For a psychological thriller, it lacks the edge that makes films within the genre intriguing and nerve-wracking. The film is not helped by a poor script, key characters lacking in enthusiasm, and a premise that falls short of its promise. Ultimately, My Cousin Rachel is a self-pitying drama instead of a psychological thriller, and that is criminal for the genre.

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