Rated PG, 104 minutes
The well-acted, compelling new historical drama “Churchill” details revered British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s involvement with D-Day in World War II, along with some of his personal flaws. Occasionally stagey and peppered with some slower moments, it’s also a fascinating look at the struggles of a great leader who once said that “success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Fearful of repeating the invasion of Gallipoli in 1915, Winston Churchill (familiar character actor Brian Cox of the “Bourne” and “X-Men” films) attempts to stop the planned invasion of Normandy in 1944. Only the support of Churchill's wife, Clementine (Oscar nominee Miranda Richardson of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and many other films), can halt the prime minister's physical and mental collapse.
Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky (“The Railway Man”) with a script from Alex von Tunzelmann (nonfiction historical author of “The Secret History of the End of an Empire”), “Churchill” is an absorbing look at an iconic leader who set the standard for leadership under fire. The excellent turn from Cox highlights the film, and he captures Churchill’s look and his gruff yet distinguished demeanor, along with some of his character flaws that made him such an interesting subject.
“Churchill” is not a biographical film per se, as it focuses on Churchill’s life in late World War II, as he struggled with ending the war and keeping casualties to a minimum. His opinionated wife, played with structure and elegance by the great Richardson in a role that seems minimized here; she can stand toe-to-toe to her towering husband and all she needs to say is a simple, curt “Winston.” That’s one of the film’s few missteps but a tribute to Richardson, to make a smallish role seem as memorable as the lead.
Watch for John Slattery (“Mad Men”), miscast here as then-General Dwight Eisenhower, who has more than one disagreement with Churchill on the direction of the war, as well as a key scene with James Purefoy (“Rome”) as King George VI. Teplitzky’s focused direction and the handsome score and photography contribute nicely to the distinguished historical production. “Churchill’s" is redundant as it goes back and forth, but it’s filled with many gripping moments, thanks to the excellent, award-worthy turns from Cox and Richardson.
For history buffs, "Churchill" will be delicacy (even with some of the likely changes the script made), for the others, it’s an affecting look at war and leadership.