"Despite an impressive performance by Cox, this Churchill film will likely be forgotten amongst the other portrayals by Lithgow and Oldman"
Winston Churchill seems to be having a resurgence onscreen of late with a recent portrayal by John Lithgow in The Crown, the upcoming Gary Oldman portrayal in The Darkest Hour and Churchill, in which he is played by Brian Cox. Luckily, they all depict different moments of the former British Prime Minister’s political career and in Churchill, the moment in time is incredibly specific – the 96 hours before D-Day.
Churchill basically follows the PM as he makes decisions about whether or not to go ahead with the Allied operation, a large-scale invasion on Nazi-occupied France by air and sea via Normandy in 1944. The invasion involved more than two million Allied troops and millions of pounds worth of machinery and weapons, so signing off on it was no easy task, as Churchill shows.
At first, he doesn’t want to go ahead with it but he is convinced of its success and necessity by General Eisenhower (John Slattery) and General Montgomery (Julian Wadham), the men in charge of the mission. Being the argumentative man that he is, Churchill doesn’t give up without a fight and once he concedes, he demands that he can join the effort to give a speech in Normandy, something which is swiftly vetoed. Then it’s crunch time – whether the weather conditions are good enough for the operation to actually launch.
Churchill is a difficult person to sympathise with when he is being hot-headed and blasting everyone without letting them getting a word in. It made me feel sorry for the seniors who had to work with him because he kept getting in their way, slowing them down and questioning their judgement at every turn. Cox is sometimes over-the-top here, but he is far more effective in showing the human side of Churchill when he is quiet and contemplative, feeling the weight of responsibility on his shoulders, convinced the mission would fail and it would be his fault.
The film is essentially just people talking about the operation in a variety of rooms, you don’t see any actual war shots, so it was hard to get into it at first as Churchill was just yelling at people all the time, from his secretary Helen (Ella Purnell) to his wife (the fantastic Miranda Richardson) so it only became really engaging when Churchill was on his own, his guard down, when the viewers could see who he really was.
It has been described as “ticking clock thriller” online and I don’t agree with that. Sure, the limited time frame does give it a sense of urgency, which definitely helps keep the momentum going throughout, but it never felt thrilling, possibly because we know the outcome already. I would describe it as more of a character study and, despite an impressive performance by Cox, this Churchill film will likely be forgotten amongst the other portrayals by Lithgow and Oldman.