Winston Churchill is arguably more myth than man now, with his memorable speeches and iconic look he is inexorably part of British culture and history. As such he has appeared in countless TV shows and movies, he even became a talking Bulldog mascot for an insurance company. Most recently we have seen the likes of John Lithgow tackle the role in Netflix’s The Crown and Timothy Spall in The Kings Speech. This is a role that is perhaps as important or as challenging as any part in a Shakespeare play for actors of a certain age and now Brian Cox is set to tackle the part in the new bio-pic directed by Johnathan Teplitzky, aptly named Churchill.
During the days in the lead up to D-Day the film follows Winston Churchill as he tries to change the plans to Operation Overlord (the code-name for the D-Day landings), an operation he sees as to great a risk to the lives of young soldiers that the leaders of the Allied forces to take.
The film is written by Alex von Tunzelmann a historian and author of The Guardian’s Reel History Column. As such there is a level of authenticity within the film that allows for more than just a surface level explanation of historical events. Despite having a monumental event like the D-Day landings and a historical figure like Churchill to contend with, the film feels perfectly paced and able to explore what it wants to, which is as already mentioned Winston Churchill with all his insecurities and fears. Actually, what Churchill the film does that is remarkably interesting and unique is it seeks to go behind the myth of the British bulldog to explore the man.
However, while the writing is solid, it is the performances that audiences will remember. Brian Cox is spectacular; he almost becomes Winston Churchill, not only in appearance but in action as well, there were times when Brian Cox melted away and Winston Churchill stood in frame, growling at modern actors about the needless sacrifices of war. Miranda Richardson does a similarly terrific job as Churchill’s wife, Clem, propping up not only her husband but also Brian Cox, providing a subtle performance that many might forget, but is perhaps more important than Brian Cox as the lead.
The film is not perfect; Ella Purnell from Tim Burton’s “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”, as Helen Garrett feels somewhat out of place, from another more melodramatic Churchill bio-pic. There were also sections that dragged heavily and repeated themselves over and over again, with numerous shots of Churchill smoking moodily and hats rolling across the beach. Similarly, sometimes the message of the film gets a bit preachy and muddled due to it being repeated ad nauseum; it turns from a leader being concerned about the lives of his men and his people to an avocation for why leaders need to remain separate from war.
Despite these little bumps, Brian Cox does do a great job in allowing an audience to see Winston Churchill’s journey from a man, a war hero, a prime minister into the iconic image. He, Miranda Richardson and writer von Tunzlemann make Churchill a spellbinding and thought-provoking film that makes you look at the man acclaimed as the greatest Briton ever in a different light.