Churchill: The Hollywood Years (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner02/12/2004

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 90 mins

Surprisingly funny, despite what you might have heard – this may be hit and miss, but when it hits, it hits hard.

If you’re the sort of person who seethes with righteous fury every time Hollywood war movies cast Americans as heroes in British conflicts (see, for example, U-571), then Churchill: The Hollywood Years is the movie for you. (Or maybe not, come to think of it.) At any rate, the film effectively satirizes the gung-ho, all-American action movie and the result is frequently hilarious, thanks to some sharp writing and strong comic performances.

Winston Churchill As Gung-Ho G.I.

The film is basically an American action flick in which Winston Churchill (Christian Slater) is actually a handsome American G.I. who arrives in 1940 London and falls for Princess Elizabeth (Neve Campbell), who is working undercover for the war effort. Together they uncover a sinister plot at the Palace, involving a treacherous aide (Leslie Phillips) to the dopey King (Harry Enfield) and a secret Palace visit by Hitler himself (Anthony Sher) and Eva Braun (Miranda Richardson).

If the set-up sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it’s a Comic Strip film in all but name – director Peter Richardson directed most of the ‘Comic Strip Presents’ TV movies in the 1980s, including one episode called Strike, which recast Al Pacino (played by Richardson) as Arthur Scargill in the Miners’ Strike.

The plot is utterly ridiculous, but that’s the whole point; the film works best when it’s pointing out how stupid Hollywood movies are. As a result, there are several excellent gags, both visual and verbal, as well as lots of amusing references to films such as Brief Encounter and Mary Poppins (Dick Van Dyke Street in East London is populated by “cheerful Irish Cockneys” who spend their time drinking and riverdancing).

Unfortunately, however, though much of the film is very funny indeed, there are also several moments that are painful to watch, such as any scene that involves Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer as a pair of screamingly camp Palace servants. Similarly, the film is book-ended by two confusing and unnecessary segments featuring Hollywood executives trying to explain the concept of the film to a Tony Blair lookalike.

Excellent Performances All Round

Slater is excellent – he’s perfectly cast as the cigar-chomping American hero, managing to be both dashingly romantic in the love scenes and suitably gung-ho in the action scenes. (The sight of him ducking, rolling and diving behind couches in Buckingham Palace is worth the price of admission alone).

Perhaps more surprising is Neve Campbell, who gives a terrific performance as the young Queen, completely nailing her weird upper-class 1940s accent and revealing a previously unsuspected gift for comedy. (It’s also, bizarrely, her sexiest performance to date).

In addition, there’s strong comic support from the likes of Leslie Phillips, Rik Mayall, Mackenzie Crook (as one of the cheerful Irish Cockneys) and Miranda Richardson, although it’s Harry Enfield who gets the biggest laughs and it’s nice to see him being genuinely funny again.

In short, this is surprisingly good fun and delivers more than enough good laughs to compensate for its weaker moments. It’s had some terrible reviews and its trailer doesn’t do it any favours either, but don’t be put off – this is well worth seeing.

Churchill: The Hollywood Years has been reviewed by 1 users
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Content updated: 23/10/2017 00:03

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