Review: Brian Cox in so-so biopic of conflicted Churchill
- Credit: Lionsgate Films/Graeme Hunter
Arriving ahead of director Joe Wright's biopic with Gary Oldman as the cigar-puffing statesman, Jonathan Teplitzky's film casts Brian Cox as the bombastic prime minister on the eve of the D-Day landings.
The great whimsy of history is the way, every now and then, it will offer up a square hole to the most awkward, obstreperous and ornery of square pegs.
These opportunities don't last for ever, but if properly seized, their achievements can. The title suggests something all encompassing but the reality is a narrow but crucial slice of his story, the four days leading up to D-Day and his realisation that his period of usefulness is coming to an end.
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Brian Cox's Churchill starts the film as the fiery iconoclastic maverick, boldly telling Ike (John Slattery) and Monty (Julian Wadham) where they can stick their D-Day plans. His objections – that the invasion area is too narrow, that it is too big a gamble and that the Allied loses will be enormous – do sound entirely reasonable; if you didn't know he was wrong you'd expect this to be a story about the lone voice of sanity bravely drumming sense into the deluded people around him and saving the day.
According to the script – which is by historian Alex Van Tunzelmann who has a regular column in the Guardian scrutinising the historical accuracy of major films, so this film had better be true – Churchill's objections are based on his experiences in the First World War, a fear that they are about to repeat the mass slaughter inflicted by armchair generals on the Western Front.
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This being a British War film it all depends on the weather and in one scene Churchill is seen praying for a mighty storm to postpone the invasion. The film is a very British well-if-I-might-be-so-bold, if-you-don't-mind-me-saying, character assassination.
As a drama though it is too much jaw jaw, and repetitively so. Danny Webb plays Field Marshall Alan Brooke, and almost every line he has is to complain that Winston is not what he was.
The film's scale is as small as its time frame it doesn't have much variation in the way it fills its running length: Churchill gets an idea into his head, goes charging off into the countryside to confront Ike or Monty, goes to look at the beach, comes back to the office a bit chastened, shouts at an underling, gets sent to his room by Clem (Miranda Richardson), feels remorseful and has a quick gulp of scotch, gets an idea into his head, goes charging off....etc. Within these limitation Teplizky comes up with some nice imagery and there's a distinctive score by Lorne Balfe, but it is a dramatically thin creation.
Never have so many Churchill, been in so many films, in so short a time. This years there has already been Lithgow's Winston in The Crown and we still have Gary Oldman's take to come in Darkest Hour. Cox is a decent Winston but not overwhelming. In one close up he looks just like him but he doesn't really do the voice and overall the likeness isn't strong.