Focus Features 2 hours 5 minutes PG-13 Reviewed December 8, 2017
This film is history come to life with an exceptional performance by Gary Oldman who has been nominated before (Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy). Oldman researched the Prime Minister of Great Britain for a full year before shooting began. The actor even toured Churchill’s war rooms. He says there are so many sides to the leader, that he’d love crack at playing him again at another point in Churchill’s life.
Director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, The Soloist) and Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) were a little apprehensive when they learned that Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk was to come out in the same year. Oldman says they were nervous the two films would be the same movie, but found that they actually complement each other and overlap.
For this film, Oldman spent 4 hours in makeup every day with a makeup artist he talked into coming out of retirement. He had worked with Kazu Hiro Tsuji (Planet of the Apes, Curious Case of Benjamin Button) before and saying he was the only one who could do this properly. There is not one scene where you think Oldman is wearing makeup. It is a total transformation. Because he came in so early, none of the cast, including Director Joe Wright, ever saw him on the seas anyone but Churchill! Plus he had all his mannerisms, from the way he lit his cigar, held his lapels, jutted out his lower jaw and looked over his glasses.
Oldman told us at the Q & A at our screening that this is maybe one of his best roles ever. We agree. He is completely in character at all times and passionate showing Churchill as a leader and human. Kristen Scott Thomas plays his wife Clementine. She knew exactly how to handle his moods. She couldn’t be bullied by him. They had one of the longest marriages of people in politics.
This film covers one month in 1940 when he was becoming Prime Minister when Hitler was already invading Europe. Great Britain wasn’t involved yet. His job was to negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler, but he had to decide whether to bow to the dictator or stand up to the Nazis. Churchill gets enraged when member of the inner circle want to continue appeasing and negotiating for peace, saying, “You cannot reason with a tiger, when it’s head is in it’s mouth!”
it takes a little time to set up the events leading up to Churchill replacing the ailing Prime Minister Chamberlain who was originally to be played by John Hurt. But Hurt passed away before they started shooting. The film is dedicated to him.
This film is actually told more from the point of view of Churchill’s Secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James, Baby Driver, Cinderella). We found it refreshing that a wartime film was told from a woman’s point of view. It was interesting to see how she, at times, became a sounding board for Churchill. When he asks her about how the war was affecting her family, she gave him human insight.
We also see the relationship between Churchill and King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One, The Place Beyond the Pines, The Dark Knight Rises). The king was wary of his new Prime Minister, but Churchill was able to convince the king that England should not stand back but fight.
Cinematically, this film sets the mood of that period perfectly, Cinematographer Bruno DelBonnel (Amélie, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince) captures the dingy war rooms, and sunlight coming through windows with dust particles in light that gives it an ethereal feel, that it’s almost unreal. Same with the stark spotlight effect in Parliament as Churchill is making his case to get the votes to go to war. And the pull back from the British headquarters in Calais keeps zooming out forever. It is a memorable shot.
There is one fun scene where Churchill takes the Tube (subway) for the first time to be with the people to take a quick pulse of the people on his way to parliament. The admit this was fabricated and didn’t actually happen, but it was amusing to see Churchill hob nob with the masses. It was, however, more inspiring to hear his stirring speeches, especially the one rallying private citizens to get in their boats and save the soldiers on the beach at Dunkirk.
There is a lot of ground covered in this film about one important month in the fate of the world. Once the film hits its stride, it’s as thrilling as any action film. Oldman inhabits the role of Churchill. He exhibits the essence of the man without his being a caricature. He was nervous about taking on this monumental role, but after seeing his performance, you'll see, he had nothing to worry about.
Click pic above for Gary Oldman Q & A video