June 1944. The Allied armies stand poised to invade Normandy and liberate Europe. And one cranky, cigar-chomping prime minister is doing himself no favours by bending the ear of anyone who’ll listen with premonitions of disaster if the D-Day plans go ahead.
Despite the title, this isn’t a straight biopic of Winston Churchill (Brian Cox). Nor, for the most part, is it a saintly portrait of the man, the legend. In fact, for the first three-quarters it’s a surprisingly even-handed depiction of aristocratic stubbornness, as Churchill – no longer leading the war effort after the Americans stepped in – storms around England arguing with General Eisenhower (John Slattery), his long-suffering wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson) and even King George (James Purefoy) as he struggles to prevent what he’s become convinced will be a military disaster.
Cox is rudely magnificent, capturing not just the wilfulness of the man but the nagging self-doubt at his inner core. But the film is just too bloodless to be fully convincing. Composed almost entirely of repetitive barking matches in elegantly furnished rooms, it never sells us on the global importance of what’s about to happen.
The final act’s descent into sentiment is hardly a surprise but it’s still disappointing. ‘Churchill’ closes, bizarrely, with a title card informing us that Winston is frequently voted the greatest Briton who ever lived, as if to suggest BBC teatime polls are of some historical relevance. Still, it’s likely to do well with its intended audience of WWII buffs and those old enough to remember the man first time round.