Lambert Wilson, Isabelle Carre, Olivier Gourmet, Laurent Stocker
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… what might have been riveting is merely workmanlike and rather flat and forgettable.
This modest drama is set in wartime France, and intermittently in London, beginning in April 1940 shortly before the collapse of France’s army and its surrender to Germany. Lambert Wilson plays General Charles De Gaulle, an uncompromising voice in the wilderness who refuses to accept defeat whilst surrounded by would-be appeasers. Most prominent among these is, ironically, the WW1 hero Marshal Petain (Philippe Laudenbach).
Lambert is perfectly cast, a lookalike who also replicates De Gaulle’s mannerisms to a tee. Similarly uncanny is Tim Hudson, who plays Winston Churchill and therefore gets a lot of the best lines. (Responding to the suggestion of abandoning France to its fate, he says “Feeding the crocodile in the hope he’ll eat us last is not what I’d call foreign policy”.)
Unfortunately, that is pretty much the extent of the good news. What follows is largely history-by-numbers, with clunky and expository dialogue – obviously inserted for our ‘education’ – particularly between De Gaulle and his wife Yvonne (Isabelle Carre). There’s an effective nightmare sequence, in which Yvonne imagines her house being taken over by drunken German soldiers, and a brief yet suspenseful scene in which people wait to see if the Luftwaffe will bomb their ship… but it’s clutching at straws.
De Gaulle went on to lead Free France from London, encouraging the struggle against the Nazis with his powerful radio broadcasts. (“Words are the only weapons I have left”, he tells Churchill.) Laudable and crucial though this undoubtedly was, it’s never made clear why he was quite so lionised in comparison with the actual Resistance fighters on the ground.
De Gaulle is watchable enough, and well acted, and of course concerns itself with tumultuous events. But therein lies the disappointment: what might have been riveting is merely workmanlike and rather flat and forgettable.