Brian Cox’s forceful and persuasive performance is the main reason to see Churchill. He is utterly convincing in ultra-closeups of his face as well as wider shots that reveal his body language. The screenplay allows Cox to embody all of the leader’s caprices and contradictions—in his dealings with staff, superiors, his King, and his wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson), whose patience has been depleted.
This narrowly focused story takes place in the days leading up to the Allied Invasion of Normandy in 1944. I had no idea that the cigar-chomping Prime Minister was opposed to the landing, known as Operation Overlord, or that he locked horns with Gen. Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Field Marshal Montgomery (Julian Wadham) over this crucial maneuver.
Historian Alex von Tunzelmann is a newcomer to screenwriting, which reveals itself when the movie takes on the tone of a history lesson. Nevertheless, the raw material is fascinating, even if some events have been telescoped and manipulated for dramatic effect. Churchill still had blood on his hands from the battle of Gallipoli in World War One and couldn’t stand the prospect of sending thousands of young men to their death a second time.
Churchill battled formidable demons, including drink and depression. He wanted to lead his men into battle, quite literally, but he was in no shape for this. Fearful of being marginalized or pushed aside entirely, he inspired the people of England through the power and eloquence of his speeches. No leader of the 20th century could match him.
This is a message worth hearing again, even if it is familiar. Brian Cox reaffirms his standing as one of the finest actors of our generation. Any good actor can wear makeup prosthetics and perform mimicry; Cox becomes Churchill, and he makes this film worth seeing.