Churchill - the Hollywood Years (2004)

Starring: Christian Slater, Neve Campbell, Harry Enfield, Anthony Sher, Miranda Richardson, Leslie Phillips

Directed by: Peter Richardson

Rating: 1 2

Christian Slater as Winston Churchill. Yuh.

After witnessing Christian Slater's blistering return to form in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest at this year's Edinburgh Festival, I was really looking forward to seeing him on the big screen again, for the first time since True Romance, in fact.

And what better vehicle than an all star Brit comedy from the people behind the classic 1980s Comic Strip films? Um, actually a clapped out old Lada would probably be a better vehicle than Churchill - The Hollywood Years.

At first glance, you would think that, with Churchill, Strike writer and director Peter Richardson was about to repeat the brilliant, inventive and utterly hilarious formula that made his tale of Hollywood heights meets England's pits such a landmark of British comedy. But, if you think about it, the warning signs were all there. For a start, the idea that Hollywood movie moguls would want to make a film about Arthur Scargill is funny. The idea that Hollywood movie moguls would want to make a film about Winston Churchill is not. They've probably already done it, actually. The idea that Arthur Scargill would be played by Al Pacino is also funny. The fact that Al Pacino would be played in a ludicrously overwrought manner by a British comedian (Richardson himself, fact fans) is even funnier.

The fact that Churchill will be played by Christian Slater is, okay, funny. Except that Christian Slater is played by Christian Slater. And in this version of the tale, Slater's Churchill isn't actually the British Prime Minister we're all familiar with. In this version, the cuddly chap with the hat and cigar is a character actor called Roy Bubbles, and Slater's Churchill is an American marine, sent over to miserable ol' Blighty to kick some Nazi butt.

Anthony Sher as Hitler in Churchill -  The Hollywood Years. Clearly in need of a new conservatory.

Churchill is supposed to take the piss out of the Americans. Crass, ignorant upstarts incapable of looking at history without rewriting themselves in the lead roles, who believe that the Second World War was won by Tom Hanks and Jon Bon Jovi on a submarine. And yet in this film, it's the Brits who come out stinking.

Okay, so it's funny that ye olde Dick Van Dyke Street in London's East End is peopled by Titanic style Riverdancing Irish cockneys. And it is pretty funny that King George V (one of the better performances of the film, courtesy of Harry Enfield) is a bumbling parsimonious fool who trots round Buckingham Palace turning all the radiators off. But actually it's not very funny that the rest of the British population are feeble, posturing, toffee nosed idiots who are all quite happy to let Hitler (Anthony Sher - clearly in need of a new conservatory or why else would he appear in this rubbish?) walk into the country unchallenged. There's a place for self-deprecating humour. It's what we Brits do best, after all. But this isn't self-deprecation, it's national character assassination.

If Churchill were a one hour Christmas special and I'd just drunk a bottle of ginger wine and eaten half a turkey, I might have found it entertaining. As it is, stone cold sober in a slightly chilly cinema, it is the turkey. The script is patchy (if I'm being nice - crap if I'm not) and hardly intellectually stimulating. Far too reliant on the 'comedy' value of swearwords and digs about 'shirtlifters', it's about as cutting edge as an episode of 'Allo 'Allo.

Neve Campbell as Princess Elizabeth, with Reeves and Mortimer as annoying footmen.

A cast that reads like a who's who of British comedy talent fail to breathe any real life into the lame jokes and flat set pieces. The only actor to truly make her character seem real and three dimensional(ish) is the ever wonderful Miranda Richardson, who somehow manages to add depth and emotional honesty to her portrayal of Hitler's rejected mistress Eva Braun. Neve Campbell pulls off a passable impression of Princess Elizabeth, but as a heroine she's pretty lame and besides, there's just something really wrong about the thought of the Queen having sex with Christian Slater.

As for Slater himself, he (fortunately) plays the whole thing straight. His Churchill is arrogant, tough and brash, all rippling muscles and tattoos in a grubby white vest. And mercifully, he doesn't try to be funny. Unlike the rest of the film, which tries so hard it's painful.

When Christian Slater first read the script, he confessed that he didn't get it. Having seen the finished product, I'm not sure I do either. Maybe it's me having a major sense of humour failure. Maybe I just don't think that Nazis in Buckingham Palace are all that funny. But then the echoing silences in the cinema as yet another joke falls as flat as Coventry after the Blitz suggest that it isn't just me. They suggest that Churchill just isn't very funny.

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