Political Film Review #542

As a title at the end of Churchill says, Winston Churchill may possibly be the greatest Briton of all time. But the early days of June 1944, featured in the film, were unquestionably his worst. What happens is that contents of Operation Overlord, the plan for D-Day, are revealed to him by Dwight Eisenhower (played by non-lookalike John Slattery), Bernard Montgomery (Julian Wadham) and others. Clearly recalling his embarrassing defeat in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915/1916, Churchill (Brian Cox) erupts in strong opposition. Although his aide, General Jan Smuts (Richard Durden), and his neglected wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson) try to persuade him to accept the plan, he remains intemperate until Eisenhower matter-of-factly informs him that the plan will go forward regardless and that his judgment is based on an earlier and obsolete technology of warfare. In other words, the reasons for the plan are never revealed to Churchill, which must have added to his fury. Then, resigned to the plan, Churchill decides to redeem himself by going on one of the ships to lead his troops into the fight along with King George VI (James Purefoy), but the latter persuades him otherwise. On June 6, 1944, as Operation Overlord begins, Churchill makes one of his most celebrated speeches to galvanize public support as troops land on the shores of Normandy, presumably with his fingers crossed. The title at the end then serves as sort of an apology by director Jonathan Teplitzky for demonstrating Churchill’s apparent senility during those days. MH

Irish director Johnny O’Reilly, who lives in the Moscow that he loves more than Dublin, decides to track the lives of several fictional residents for 24 hours, giving filmviewers a taste of life in the Russian capital by shifting back and forth between several intertwined personal melodramas amid impressive cinematography of a burgeoning high-rise city in Moscow Never Sleeps. The most politically relevant life features an executive who presents a proposed building complex to Moscow city authorities, who in turn steal his project to get credit. When he refuses to go along with their game, his office is ransacked. He then decides to relocate to New York with his girlfriend despite a caution that “New York is overrated.” But his girlfriend is still being chased by an ex-boyfriend, to whom she admits that she has ditched him because the exec gives her a better life. When the three meet together on the street after her public singing performance, the exec punches him to the ground. But the ex-boyfriend is the son of a famous comedian, who evidently has terminal cancer. Rather than being confined to a hospital, the comedian decides to eat and drink in a nearby café, where he is accosted by four teenage punks, who provide transportation so that he can have his wife meet his girlfriend. The punks, in turn, go to a strip bar disco, meet two teenage girls, and try to have sex with them. The girls, half-sisters who hate each other, are from a broken family that earlier expels a grandmother to a nursing home. Amid the emotional chaos, showing how Moscovites cope with daily life, the film provides a happy ending to almost everyone amid fireworks and a parade for Moscow Day. The exuberant style of the film follows Robert Altman’s “short cuts” style, which attracted a Political Film Society nomination in 1993. MH