Brian Cox gives good Churchill. He has the acting chops, he has the body shape, and he really knows how pull that bulldog face. He has jowls and he knows how to use them. But creating the facsimile only takes you so far, the key to a good biopic is bringing new intel to the table, illuminating shades of historical grey hitherto hidden by the broad strokes. On that score this film makes the grade in spades, at least for those whose book shelves don’t groan with military histories.
It covers only a matter of days in June 1944, as D-Day looms. Churchill is revisited by guilty flashbacks of his most infamous invasion plan from the first war, a calamity known as Gallipoli. Perhaps even more shocking for him is the realisation that he is no longer being taken seriously, not by Field Marshall Montgomery nor by the new boss of the war, the American Dwight D. Eisenhower. Also, Winnie is seriously on the piss, chugging his cigar and sculling back whisky like there’s no tomorrow and sleeping till midday like a teenager.
Cox makes a great Churchill though he never reaches the heights that John Lithgow knocked off with his electric performance on the recent Netflix series The Crown. Likewise the film pales a bit in comparison to that and other recent period pieces. It’s somewhat workmanlike and sometimes cheesy, has a crappy score, and why anyone thought it a good idea to cast Mad Men’s Roger Sterling (John Slattery) as Eisenhower is beyond me. Still, director Jonathan Teplitzky sure knows how to draw the best from Cox and Miranda Richardson (Clementine Churchill), and it’s their performances that make the film.