Thanks to air-headed Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) having difficulty finding the Vernon estate Churchill, thinking he was supposed to look for both a church and a hill in Whit Sillman’s Love & Friendship, a certain set of viewers can’t help but giggle upon seeing that name in its more traditional context.
At times in Jonathan Teplitzky’s Churchill, a different form of levity raises its head — an odd, sadversion that seems to delight in depicting the British Prime Minister with the first name Winston (played by Brian Cox) as a fuddy duddy whose outdated grasp of military strategy unwittingly embarrasses him in front of his world leader peers and subordinates.
Such uncomfortable behavior is showcased in the hours leading up to D-Day and isn’t helped by the godawful casting of John Slattery as pre-presidential Dwight Eisenhower. Sounding exactly like Roger Sterling while playing the supreme commander of the allied forces proves an incompatible combination and yields legitimate (albeit guilt-free) uncomfortable laughter.
Getting in on the sketchy linguistic fun, James Purefoy’s King George VI speaks with such an odd accent that he only fleetingly sounds British while Richard Durden’s take on South African-born Churchill advisor Jan Smuts is downright Germanic. Next to these buffoons, Cox’s often wobbly interpretation of Churchill’s vocal patterns comes off as an expert study.
The ill-rehearsed performances make Churchill a significant step down from Teplitzky’s 2014 drama The Railway Man, though the film improves in quiet moments as the PM battles doubt and depression concerning the invasion.
There to support him — to a point — and generally hold the production together is his wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson), and it’s also in these dialed back scenes that the director does his best framing, presenting Churchill at times as the larger-than-life political figure his legacy encourages and at others as a surprisingly more fragile human being.
In melding those two sides, however, Teplitzky and the film overall struggle mightily.
Grade: C. Rated PG. Now playing at the Fine Arts Theatre
**What Next? and Dinner Party Fodder for Churchill: bonus insight and follow-up film suggestions, available exclusively to patrons.**
(Photo: Cohen Media Group)