Slow-paced, talky account of how the Washington Post and its larger-than-life executive editor, Ben Bradlee, obtained and published the “Pentagon Papers,” a secret history of the US involvement in Vietnam, in 1971. The key performance is by Meryl Streep as
Katherine Graham, owner of the paper, who evolves from socialite and timid businesswoman to a fearless defender of the free press – in about a week. A crisis can have that effect, I guess. The film also explores the tangled relationship between media titans like Mrs. Graham and Bradlee on the one hand and politicians, including presidents, on the other. One gets the impression that the Post might have acted differently if the president had been someone other than the socially undesirable Nixon. Bradlee is portrayed by Tom Hanks in the latest of his long series of roles as All American Hero. If you’re interested in films about the power of the press, “Spotlight” was better, in my view.
“The Darkest Hours”
So we all know Winston Churchill led Britain through World War II with a mixture of defiant resolve and immortal rhetoric, with a splash of Scotch. Most Americans have no idea he faced political problems even among his own Conservative party, which led to the “war cabinet crisis” in 1940, early in his tenure as prime minister. Churchill speedily outmaneuvered the “umbrella men” who were interested in finding out what terms
Hitler might have had to offer, but the fact that he had to do it reminds us that the war might have turned out differently if he hadn’t been there. Gary Oldman turns in a stellar performance as Churchill, replacing Albert Finney’s as the definitive impersonation of the great man. Any history buff will thrill to his rendition of snippets of Churchill’s speeches: “We will fight on the beaches . . .” Attaboy, Winnie! Just disregard the fantastical parts, such as Churchill’s impromptu research on public opinion on the London subway. Churchill, alas, knew very little about the lives of ordinary people, which is why they cast him aside as soon as the war was won. But all in all, a very good historical film.
Little noticed last year was another film on Churchill’s wartime performance, this one set in the days before the D-Day landings in 1944. It is based loosely on the fact that
Churchill and the British high command had some reservations about the idea of invading France in the first place. Churchill would have preferred to attack Germany from the south, through Italy or the Balkans. But the Americans always assumed that landing an army in France was the only way to get to Germany and win the war, and Churchill never seriously contested that strategy. The film bizarrely takes the approach that Churchill was fighting the Overlord plan right down the wire, motivated largely by his guilty recollections of the Dardanelles/Gallipoli disaster in World War I, of which he had been the chief advocate. The movie is very strange, a “chamber drama” with a small cast and a few sets. The only saving grace is a very good performance as Churchill by Brian Cox, a British actor not well known in this country. Makes an interesting bookend to a viewing of “Darkest Hours.”