Winston Churchill is one of Britain’s most popular historical figures, mainly because of his passionate wartime speeches which spurred the nation onto victory. He’s popped up on television and film screens plenty, with John Lithgow giving a suitably crotchety performance in Netflix TV series The Crown, Timothy Spall in The King’s Speech and Gary Oldman is currently gearing up to take a pull on his trademark cigar in movie The Darkest Hour.
Now it’s Brian Cox’s turn to play the corpulent Brit, in Jonathan Teplitzky’s movie, which is scripted by historian and author Alex Von Tunzelmann.
The Scottish actor, a veteran of movies like Braveheart and The Bourne Identity, takes centre stage in this movie, which focuses on the run-up to World War II’s D-day in summer 1944, portraying the prime minister as a man fearful of history repeating itself.
The plan for the Normandy landings brings back wartime memories of the disastrous Dardanelles campaign in 1915, when thousands of young men were killed and wounded in Gallipoli. His objection to the planned operation and risks of the beach landings fall on the deaf ears of military commander General Eisenhower, played by Mad Men’s John Slattery and Bernard Montgomery, commander of the British ground forces. Cox’s Churchill is seen as a has-been, losing his power within the government, and influence over the armed forces and he is battling “the black dog” of depression.
Shot in Scotland, Cox portrays the PM as a stubborn man fearful of history repeating itself, who lacked trust in modern military methods. Cox certainly looks the part, having gained 10 kilograms, complete with accurate hair and costume makeover, but he struggles to give a coherent performance of a frail Churchill haunted by the huge loss of life sustained in the World War I, dogged by depression, and infuriated by the military men who consider him a relic.
Miranda Richardson brings elegance and grit to the role of Churchill’s put-upon wife Clemmie, but her character is one-dimensional and gets little development beyond her terse or calming interactions with her depressed spouse.
Churchill recreates the period detail of the time well, with excellent props and costuming, however, it is probably one for history buffs and Churchill enthusiasts, who may find its departure from traditional depictions of the politician as the epitome of Britain’s bulldog spirit, of interest.
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