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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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April 2024