Churchill: The Hollywood Years

Avoid this one on the beaches, in the fields and in streets, most importantly in the cinemas.

Released in 2004, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 08 Dec 2004 by Scott Morris
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The concept behind Churchill: The Hollywood Years is simple - you've been educated stupid. A massive governmental coverup has convinced us that Winston Churchill was a distinguished elderly statesman who inspired Great Britain back when it was worthy of the 'Great' part to victory over those rotten Nazi chappies. We can now reveal that he was in fact a cigar chompin', bravado fuelled wisecrack spewing Yankee G.I. who kicked ass first and asked questions about ten years later. This is the story of how Churchill (Christian Slater) single handedly thwarted an early attempt by Adolf Hitler (Antony Sher) to marry Princess Elizabeth (Neve Campbell) and subdue Blighty.

For anyone who's slept through their history lessons we should take the opportunity to point out that this is nonsense, the tubby gent with the rousing speeches was the real Churchill, not a character actor by the name of Roy Bubbles as is claimed here. This is an attempt to lampoon the movie industry, in particular the American studio's (seeing as the U. K. produces maybe two films a year and they tend to end up like Devil's Gate, or indeed this film) preponderance for treating war history as a malleable series of suggestions rather than concrete facts. Pick your own favourite examples, from the more or less justifiable but nonetheless mildly galling complete lack of Brits in quality movies like Saving Private Ryan or complete hogwash that frankly insults the memory of the men who gave their life for the cause such as U-371's carnival of nonsense presented as fact bar the small print.

You'd think there's a rich seam of material to tap into, clichés to subvert and giggles to be has from this feature from Stella Street lynchpin Peter Richardson, but you'd be wrong. So very, very wrong. It's simply not up to scratch, made all the more galling by the talent who have been signed up for the project. Perhaps not too many household names for worldwide audiences apart from the headline Campbell / Slater pairing, but were this to appear as a made-for-telly outing (as it often feels like) this would be an all-star cast. Harry Enfield, Vic Reeves, Bob Mortimer, Mackenzie Crook, Jon Caulshaw, Steve 'League of Gentlemen' Pemberton, Rik Mayall, Phil Cornwell and the man himself Leslie Phillips show up various roles with the common thread being that they're all totally wasted.

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I can only assume these casting decisions come from a favour calling exercise, as there's nary a sausage in the script for any of these talented comedians to work with. If you need utterly generic camp footmen characters, why bother getting Reeves and Mortimer to play them when anyone with a year of drama school or possibly any passing vagrant would be able to do the same role equally well? At least Cornwell gets something to play with, his Boorman played as a cockney hardman Nazi, for some reason, which has it's moments. None of the actors involved do themselves a disservice to be honest, it's quite clear they've nothing to play with.

While laughter proves elusive, it certainly evokes sympathy for Slater. Plaudits for his appearance in the stage version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest notwithstanding, Christian seems to get a rough time of things from critics which is perhaps justifiable but lately at least he always seems like such a sound chap that it's almost like kicking a puppy to decry a film he's in. Sadly, here we have to line up the Chihuahua for a drop kick, as Churchill has approximately two attempts at decent jokes and they're both off the cuff, fourth wall breaking ironic nudges. Any other chuckles come from Leslie Phillips swearing, which isn't big or clever but he has elevated the process to an art form, so you'll have to excuse us if we take what small pleasures we can from it.

The problem that Churchill or indeed any other film attempting a parody on the genre is that of scale. I believe that to effectively extract the Michael from the targets that have been set here you'd need a production that can at least attempt to replicate the grandeur and polish that most recent attempts at war flick have had. Churchill feels flimsy in comparison, relegated from Bush League. As this stands it wouldn't compare well with any T. V. miniseries of the last few years you'd care to mention, let alone the Hollywood epics it hopes to ape, or at least make a monkey of.

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Decrying a film so roundly is something I'm always loathe to do off-the-cuff, on the basis that there's always the off chance I'm at odds with, well, everyone else. I'm a little more heartened in writing this movie off as a waste of time by the complete silence this film was viewed in by a screen full of similarly unimpressed filmgoers. When a trailer for Team America: World Police can get more laughs in three minutes than the feature can muster, you know it's a film with serious problems.

Again, let me take great pains to absolve everyone in this film apart from the director / scriptwriter Peter Richardson of blame. They've genuinely not been given anything to work on and it's the sort of script that just beggars belief that no-one pointed out that it wasn't anything close to good enough to sustain a ninety minute film.

While this doesn't really have the same obvious contempt for it's audience that some of the more objectionable comedies have and Slater is desperately trying to charisma over the scripts' shortcomings , but it's glaringly obvious that there aren't any decent jokes apart from the initial concept. The production values could be fixed by throwing more money at it, I suppose, but then the film would never have been made. Which seems like a good idea at this point.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 1/5 TippyMarks.

Peter Richardson
Cast list:
Neve Campbell (Princess Elizabeth)
Christian Slater (Winston Churchill)
Phil Cornwell (Martin Boorman)
Mackenzie Crook (Jimmy Charoo)
Jon Culshaw (Tony Blair)
James Dreyfus (Mr. Teasy-Weasy)
Harry Enfield (King George V)
Rik Mayall (Baxter)
Bob Mortimer (Potter)
Jessica Oyelowo (Princess Margret)
Steve Pemberton (Chester)
Leslie Phillips (War Ministry Chief)
Vic Reeves (Bendle)
Miranda Richardson (Eva Braun)
Antony Sher (Hitler)