Laina At the Movies: 'Churchill' and 'Wonder Woman'



I have seen many films and documentaries about this remarkable 20th century figure, and his life was always fascinating. This particular film focuses on just a few days, the time just before the Allied June 6, 1944 invasion of France, which if successful would be the first step in taking Europe away from the Nazis.

This film will not provide the viewer with a broad spectrum of Churchill's extraordinary career and life, which could make it a bit claustrophobic and tedious to watch. But for anyone with a pretty good grasp of Churchill's life, revisiting his crisis of nerve is worthwhile.

Churchill, who may have been the bravest and most wily leader to stand up to Hitler and to drag the isolationist Americans into the war, had many decades before, in his first role in government during World War I, took responsibility for one of the worst-designed military assaults: the attempt to take Gallipoli from the Ottomans. The elites in the British government and military expected this invasion to be a piece of cake, an attitude reflecting their scorn for the Turks. Instead, they encountered a very well-trained modern army (unlike the rest of the not-modernized Ottoman Empire) who decimated the British and Australian/New Zealand forces. The death toll was horrific. Churchill took the blame, which dogged his career until the eve of World War II.

Churchill, in his 70s, was Prime Minister of Great Britain, a dogged and wonderful leader, until the eve of D-Day. He was overcome by memories and his personal guilt over the Gallipoli disaster and feared that this would be another such rout. He was compelled to deal with his personal demons and rise to the occasion of giving his D-Day speech to the nation (and to our nation as well).

This is a film about leadership, leadership by human beings with all sorts of other baggage. We see the extraordinary leadership of Clementine, Lady Churchill, who has had to deal with this outsized monster of a husband and bring him back from his temporary crisis of nerve. We also see Eisenhower (I would have liked to see more of him, a man also struggling with his responsibilities and concerns for the death toll) and the other military giants who together rescued Europe.

Never commented on in the film, but seen, was Churchill's home, the paintings on the walls of his 300 years of noble and consequential ancestors, the trappings of British aristocracy and their sense of duty. Churchill was both a unique individual and the product of his heritage.

I admired the performance of Brian Cox as Churchill, almost turning him into the mad King Lear, Shakespeare's masterpiece. And Miranda Richardson was wonderful as the unflappable Clementine, who was able to bring Churchill back from the precipice.

One mystery never revealed was how Churchill managed to live well into his 80s, considering how pickled his liver must have been from alcohol consumption and how black his lungs from cigars! He was one tough, talented cookie.

Wonder Woman

This film, based on the comic books that thrilled little girls (and panting young men), was a box office grand slam everywhere in the world upon opening, with the exception of the Arab world. Wonder Woman in this film was played by an Israeli actress, the awesome beauty, Gal Gadot. Showing an Israeli woman scantily clad and more powerful than most men would certainly alarm Hamas and other jihadis. It comes to close to reality for them.

Of course I wanted to see it, and was pleasantly surprised that it had more meat than I expected. The story of the Amazons, a tribe of women warriors, dates back to antiquity. The Greeks, who veiled and secluded their women, were astonished by the feisty women of Sparta, the Greek state that ultimately went to war against Athens and won. But much older than that bit of history was the myth about a community of women who used men for reproduction only and then expelled them. A tribe called the Scythians may have been the origins of this myth because their women were warriors, although their men were too.

In this film, the Amazons are living in blissful peace, but preparing for war if needed. They live without men (except for procreation), and in this story, only one child lives among these women, Princess Diana, daughter of their Queen and the god Zeus (he was a busy procreator). Diana was trained until she was the very best warrior among them, and she was dedicated to pursuing Zeus' evil brother, Ares, the god of War.

The time is World War I, which they learn about only when a young American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is shot down in his plane by a German ship. Diana rescues him, and learns for the first time that the entire world is at war. She also sees for the first time a human male, which fascinates her, because her only knowledge of men had come from books. She is not as naïve as Miranda in Shakespeare's Tempest, who, living with her father on a desert island has never seen any other men until a shipwreck brings an assortment of villains and heroes to the island. Miranda is dazzled. "What a piece of work is man," she marvels, unaware of how terrible some of them really were.

Diana knows the world only through books, so she is very curious about this new arrival, wondering if he is "average."  He tells her modestly that he is above average (all of this discussion as she observes him bathing in a stream).

Diana leaves the island and travels with Steve and she must disguise herself as a European woman, wondering if the corset is a new form of armor.

The film is wonderful until the last few minutes when we get all the WHAM and POW of comic book conflict, Diana versus her uncle, Ares.

Diana learns that war is not just the fault of Ares; human beings can be monsters of war too, but, as she notes, can also be so much more.

Do go see it, and have sympathy for those ideological fools who will not do so.
Contributing Editor Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of How Do You Know That? You may contact her at or

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