The Corner

Culture

Is There Such a Thing as Enough Winston Churchill?

On the op-ed page of today’s Wall Street Journal, the usually excellent Dorothy Rabinowitz offers a critical assessment of Christopher Nolan’s new film “Dunkirk,” in particular lamenting the fact that Winston Churchill does not appear in any scene.

“Dunkirk,” opening in theaters Friday, is noteworthy in many respects. Not least for its creator’s decision—on the interesting ground that it would make things clearer for audiences—to avoid any appearance of Churchill. Of, that is, the newly appointed prime minister central to this story: the voice of that embattled Britain whose citizens, answering their government’s call, set out to rescue its army, stranded on the beaches of northern France in May of 1940.

… It’s possible of course that a director less apprehensive about appearing old-fashioned might have risked an actual clip of the prime minister without undue harm to the audience.

In the bleak days of 1940, Churchill told his cabinet: “If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each of us lies choking on his own blood on the ground.” If Batman ever said anything remotely as interesting, he’d have our devoted attention.

Rabinowitz has seen the film and I haven’t, so maybe she’s right that Churchill’s absence feels strange, off-putting, or feels like a glaring omission. But let me offer one possible defense of Nolan’s decision.

In June, Churchill, starring Brian Cox as the title character, was released in theaters. In November, Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman as the prime minister, will be released. That’s two Churchill biopics hitting theaters within a few months, and the trailer for Darkest Hour suggests the Dunkirk evacuation is a significant plot point. This isn’t counting 2016’s Churchill’s Secret, where Michael Gambon played the prime minister, 2009’s Into the Storm, where Brendan Gleeson played Churchill, or Albert Finney portrayal of him in 2002’s The Gathering Storm. At one point, Kevin Spacey was attached to another biography film about Churchill entitled Captain of the Gate.

In other words, the types of audiences most interested in watching a World War II drama have seen a lot of distinguished actors play Churchill lately, and perhaps Nolan found that ground too well-trod cinematically to offer anything new.

Most Popular

Elections

Kamala Harris Runs for Queen

I’m going to let you in on a secret about the 2020 presidential contest: Unless unforeseen circumstances lead to a true wave election, the legislative stakes will be extremely low. The odds are heavily stacked against Democrats’ retaking the Senate, and that means that even if a Democrat wins the White House, ... Read More
Energy & Environment

The Climate Trap for Democrats

The more the climate debate changes, the more it stays the same. Polls show that the public is worried about climate change, but that doesn’t mean that it is any more ready to bear any burden or pay any price to combat it. If President Donald Trump claws his way to victory again in Pennsylvania and the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

But Why Is Guatemala Hungry?

I really, really don’t want to be on the “Nicolas Kristof Wrote Something Dumb” beat, but, Jiminy Cricket! Kristof has taken a trip to Guatemala, with a young woman from Arizona State University in tow. “My annual win-a-trip journey,” he writes. Reporting from Guatemala, he discovers that many ... Read More
Culture

What We’ve Learned about Jussie Smollett

It’s been a few weeks since March 26, when all charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and the actor declared that his version of events had been proven correct. How’s that going? Smollett’s celebrity defenders have gone quiet. His publicists and lawyers are dodging reporters. The @StandwithJussie ... Read More
Politics & Policy

On Painting Air Force One

And so it has come to this. Two oil tankers were just attacked in the Gulf of Oman, presumably by Iran. The United States and China are facing off in a confrontation that is about far more than trade. The southern border remains anarchic and uncontrolled. And Congress is asking: “Can I get the icon in ... Read More