Opens: June 8
Genre: Biographical drama
Duration: 110 minutes
The life of Winston Churchill was crammed with enough adventure and intrigue to fill several movies. Given the early years were covered by Richard Attenborough in 1972’s Young Winston, it makes sense for later filmmakers to focus on the WW2 years. This new film starring Brian Cox narrows its focus even further to the few weeks leading up to the allied D-Day invasion of Nazi-Occupied France, with no footage of the actual assault.
The British leader was largely sidelined by the Americans at this stage of the war and is depicted here chafing in frustration, though his earlier preference for invasion via Greece and Italy is unmentioned.
Scripted by historian and author Alex von Tunzelmann and directed by Australian Jonathan Teplitzky (The Railway Man), this film aims to paint a realistic portrait of the wartime leader. It goes beyond the iconic British bulldog cliché to give us a multifaceted individual; one skeptical and nervous of the coming invasion, frustrated at being pushed aside by the Americans in the planning, fearful of the potential for disaster (influenced by guilt over his pivotal former role as the WWI leader responsible for the Gallipoli campaign), and dogged by the depression from which he fought solace in alcohol.
This approach has the capacity to make its subject appear a repellant and even pathetic figure, but for avoiding that fate we can largely thank Cox for a magisterial and empathetic performance that gets under the leader’s skin to find the insecurities lurking beneath. This Churchill is someone who is all too human. If the film has a hero it’s his wife Clementine (a typically superb Miranda Richardson), trying hard not to walk out on him as his temper overspills and his behavior becomes increasingly unreasonable.
It’s sad, given these strengths, however that the film is let down by the casting of John Slattery as the story’s major antagonist, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who headed the invasion forces. The superciliousness the actor brought so successfully to advertising magnate Roger Sterling in Mad Men is carried over to a role that requires steel. Too bad the original casting choice, the ever-reliable Stanley Tucci, dropped out.