Movie review: Churchill

Movie reviews

Hello!

Churchill is the first of the two biographical dramas of 2017 about ‘the greatest Briton of all time’ Winston Churchill (or the second of the three if we count his appearance on Netflix’s The Crown). Let’s see how good it is!

IMDb summary: 96 hours before the World War II invasion of Normandy, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill struggles with his severe reservations with Operation Overlord and his increasingly marginalized role in the war effort.

While The Crown mostly touched upon Churchill’s second term in the office (1951-55), both biopics of this year are looking at his first term as the Prime Miniter. The second drama that’s coming around Christmas – The Darkest Hour – will look at the beginning of that term and the start of WW2 (1940-41), while Churchill explored the closing months of the said war and the D-day preparations (1944).

Writing

Churchill’s script was written by a British historian and author Alex von Tunzelmann, thus, all (or at least the majority of) historical facts in the screenplay were most likely true to life, while the film-writing specific mistakes could be explained by a lack of experience in writing scripts (she has worked on a historical TV series before but only a little bit).

The biggest flaw in the writing for Churchill, to my mind, was the fact that a plethora of brilliant ideas were introduced or hinted at but never fully explored. I loved the nods to the strained UK/US relationship (like a parent/child one or an old married couple type of one) and the brief showcasing of the Churchill/King George VI relationship that was a complex combo of professionalism and friendship. Churchill’s relationship with his wife was also on display – she was his reality check as well as the biggest supporter – and I wanted to see more of their confrontations and reconciliations.

The writing for the character of Churchill tried being complex but ended up confused. And yet, it still managed to surprise me. For one, I’ve never thought of Churchill as the leader of the ‘everyman’, who thought about the war in terms of the lives lost. I have also seen him as a very conservative leader, while this film depicted him as kinda a rebel in the eyes of the other war generals. This type of rebellious imagining also clashed with the other side of his persona – the fact that he was always seen as too old or living in the past (here the experience versus the inability to move forward debate comes up). His public vs private sides were also touched upon in the movie but were never distinguished well enough one from the other. Lastly, this film suggested that Churchill felt underappreciated for his efforts, which kinda goes against the ideas of today, where he is hailed as ‘The greatest Briton’ and statues of him are to be found in every major city in the UK (and on every corner in London, basically).

While I usually appreciate ambiguities as well as opposing ideas being presented in the motion picture, this time around, I felt that Churchill was just grasping all over the place and not only didn’t have a clear final message but didn’t even have an initial outline of what it wanted to achieve. It’s really a shame because a lot of ideas that the film introduced were ripe for exploration but were either wasted or wrongly mixed with other creative concepts.

Directing 

An Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky directed Churchill and did an okay job. I loved the opening images of the film – the signature hat in the bloody water – and thought that they were really cinematic. However, all of the following visuals really lacked grandness and felt like they belonged in a BBC TV movie or a miniseries. The lack of cinematic visuals could partially be explained by the fact that the movie’s script was very personal, more fitting to a long format analysis on the small screen. Speaking about longness, while the film itself was just around 100 minutes long and quite slowly paced, it, sadly, wasn’t always engaging to justify the slowness of the plot.

Acting

The best part of the whole film was its cast. Both Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson delivered transformational performances as Winston and Clementine Churchill. Cox brought vulnerability as well as a stubbornness to the performance, while Richardson was the perfect embodiment of the female strength.

Ella Purnell played Churchill’s secretary Helen Garret. Her role in the film really reminded me of another Churchill’s secretary character of Venetia Scott, played by Kate Phillips in The Crown. King George VI was played by James Purefoy. His character is probably one of the most recognizable movie characters of the British monarchy because of the slight stutter, explored in The King’s Speech.

In short, Churchill was an okay biopic that deserved a clearer and more concise writing and should have had more cinematic qualities in its visuals.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Churchill trailer

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Movie review: Their Finest 

Movie reviews

Hello!

The first movie of the year focused on the battle of Dunkirk – Their Finest – has reached theaters, so, let’s review it.

IMDb summary: A British film crew attempts to boost morale during World War II by making a propaganda film after the Blitzkrieg.

While Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (premiering in July) will tackle and reproduce the actual battle and the evacuation, Lone Scherfig’s film Their Finest is a story about a war propaganda film, based on a fictional story related to the real-life events at Dunkirk, produced in order to raise the patriotism of the nation. The genres and tones of the 2 movies differ vastly: one looks like a grim and serious action drama, while another one is a lighter comedy drama with some romance thrown in as well.

On top of being one of the two films about Dunkirk, Their Finest interested me for 3 reasons: 1. I wanted to see the representation of the British propaganda and how it differed or was similar to the Soviet propaganda – the kind that I’m more familiar with from history classes and from just generally growing up in Eastern/Northern Europe. 2. I have always enjoyed films about filmmaking and as this one centered on screenwriters – an occupation that I would like to pursue – my interest was peaked. 3. The movie started Sam Claflin – an actor, whose career I’ve been following pretty closely. So, let’s see if Their Finest is as ‘fine’ of a picture as the title suggests!

Writing

Their Finest was written by a TV writer Gaby Chiappe, based on novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. From the technical standpoint, the writing for the film was very nice: the narrative was well structured and rich with ideas. Whether or not the ideas worked, is a very subjective question. I, personally, really liked some of the themes but was equally frustrated by the others.

To begin with, the picture focused a lot on the relationship between Gemma Arterton’s and Sam Claflin’s characters. I highly disliked the fact that their professional relationship had to be turned into a romantic one by the end of the film. I find that this happens in a lot of stories, even in the contemporary ones. For example, the way J.K.Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is portraying the relationship between the two main characters in her Cormoran Strike Series irritates me a lot. And yet, going back to the relationship between the characters in Their Finest, if I considered the said relationship’s romantic aspect separately, I thought that it did work and was convincing. The two individuals seemed pretty evenly matched and their sparring was entertaining to watch. The sudden end to the relationship was also emotionally effective. At first, I deemed that the end might have been too sudden but I later I’ve realized that the scriptwriters intended it to be that way and to convey a message that one never knows what might happen in war.

The second big theme of the picture was Gemma Arterton’s character’s growth as an individual. Her personal story acted very much as a symbol for a lot of women’s stories during the war – how they have finally begun to transition from the domestic spaces into the public ones. Sadly, this process is still is progress, 70+ years later. I thought that the main character was developed quite nicely – I wish we would have found out more about her background and upbringing in Wales, but I really liked her subtle journey towards independence.

Thirdly, the movie explored the screenwriting and the filmmaking business. I really loved this particular aspect of the film and just loved the fact that Their Finest celebrated the movies and tried finding positive attributes of cinema even if it was political cinema. I simply loved Sam Claflin’s character’s enthusiasm about and love for the pictures, especially since his character otherwise seemed really pessimistic and ironic. I could identify with this type of depiction very closely. The way the movie played up the uber-poshness of the actors and of the British actors, to be specific, with Bill Nighy’s character was also really fun.

Lastly, Their Finest dealt with the propaganda filmmaking, not just simple filmmaking. Not only did this type of story provided a different perspective on war, but it also proved to me that the types of propaganda don’t vary much from country to country. Like the Soviet propaganda, some of the British propaganda was very obvious but some of it was something more, just like the-picture-within-the-picture in Their Finest or a real life example, such as Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. And yet, since both Their Finest and The Nancy Starling (a-movie-within-a-movie) stressed the importance of optimism and happy endings, I can’t help but wonder where exactly did the cinematic propaganda end?

Directing

Their Finest was directed by Lone Scherfig. Although the director is Danish, I thought that she nailed the British feeling of the film. She has already done that earlier with The Riot Club – that movie has really made me question my adoration of the British culture quite a bit. So, Their Finest resembled the previous historic UK-based movies that I’ve reviewed, like SuffragetteTestament of Youthand Far From The Madding Crowd. The fact that the movie was executed with the classical stationary camera work and the steady frame, also added an appropriate old-school yet timeless feel to the picture. The pacing of the picture was also very even. 

Acting

Gemma Arterton played the lead in the film and did a really good job. I hope that this is a career-changing role for her, as so far she has been starring in mostly B-level pictures, like Clash of the TitansPrince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Hansel & Gretel: Witch HuntersI really loved how subtle yet powerful her performance was. My favorite line of hers was the last words to the boyfriend: ‘You shouldn’t have painted me that small’. Her delivery was brilliant. I also though that Arterton’s chemistry with the co-star Sam Claflin was really good and believable. I loved Claflin’s character and the actor’s performance. It was so interesting to see a writer who can express oneself well enough of paper but struggles to do the same face to face. After starting his big screen career by acting the big action flicks, like Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and The Hunger Games franchise, Claflin has mostly stuck to dramas recently, including 2014’s Love, Rosie and 2016’s Me Before You. His next film is also a historical drama – My Cousin Rachel. He has also previously collaborated with the director of Their Finest on The Riot Club.

The supporting cast included established English actors Bill NighyHelen McCroryEddie Marsan, and Richard E. GranJack Huston (American Hustle, Hail, Caesar!and Ben-Hur) also had a minor role.

In short, Their Finest is a brilliant little movie, which, sadly, will be overlooked by the majority of movie-goers and buried by the blockbusters, including the one it shares the topic with. I highly recommend this film for all those interested in history and the art of filmmaking.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Their Finest trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Testament of Youth

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another segment of brief movie reviews. You can find the first installment here.

This time, we are talking about Testament of Youth – a 2nd British period piece of this summer. I have done the full review of the 1st one – Far From the Madding Crowd, find it here.

  1. Testament of Youth is a film about World War I. It is based on a memoir by English writer and a pacifist Vera Brittain, who is also the main character of the film (it’s a memoir, so duh-uh). I’m in love with British literature and history, so this film was perfect for me. Also, recently, I have become very interested in books and movies about World Wars, so I’m very happy that I checked this one out as well. It’s a great historical movie and, as you would expect from any wartime movie, it doesn’t have a happy ending. However, the whole plot of the film portrays one particular feeling, which makes the ending seem like a happy one: the feeling of hope. Hope that the world can change and that we, as a race, can learn from our mistakes. Sadly, the film’s characters don’t know the true, but we do – people never learn from the past.
  2. The film is directed by James Kent and written by Juliette Towhidi. However, the most accomplished behind the scenes person on this film is actually the producer – David Heyman. He produced all Harry Potter films and 2013’s Gravity. Visually, the film looks beautiful and the locations are true to historical facts. The famous shot of saying goodbye in a train station, which can be seen in all films about war, is done wonderfully in this film as well.
  3.  The leading lady of the film – Vera Brittain – is played by Alicia Vikander. I loved her in the role. She perfectly portrayed an independent woman, who is smart and knows what she wants from life, but is not afraid to be a romantic as well. I did a review of other Alicia Vikander’s films very recently and spoke more about her as an actress in that post. Find it here.
  4. The leading man of the film is played by Game of Throne’s Kit Harrington. With an unknown fate of Jon Snow, I’m happy that Harrington is developing his movie career. He was brilliant in the role and I’m happy that critics finally seem to like him because his other movies Pompeii and Seventh Son were torn apart by the same critics.
  5. The film’s suppository cast is full of British talent. Kingsman’s Taron Egerton plays Vera’s brother, while Agent Carter’s Hayley Atwell stars as one of the nurses. TV and theater actor Colin Morgan plays a friend of the Brittain’s siblings. All actors deliver top-notch performances.

All in all, it’s a great film for fans of history and for fans of sad but hopeful war movies. The acting is great, the visual appeal – amazing and the story is bound to bring at least a single tear to the viewer’s eye. The film was released in the UK last year and in many parts of the world throughout 2015, but in might be easier to find it online or on DVD, if you want to watch it.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Testament of Youth trailer

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