While it no doubt provides a sensational showcase for Brian Cox’s performance as Britain’s most famous Prime Minister, this 90-minute movie covering the 96 hours before the D-Day landings makes you feel the passing of every single hour.
In many ways, the film sets out to dismantle the myth of Churchill the great, respected wartime leader and instead show him as an ageing, curmudgeonly old sod, stubbornly resisting the forces he himself had helped assemble and pushed into the ascendance.
Cox powerfully conveys Winston’s sense of irritation and outrage with those around him and the way he is being treated and the audience can empathise given most of them will have been raised in reverence of him as a quasi-mythic heroic figure.
Churchill’s opposition to the D-Day landing plans is evident if unexplored by a leaden and repetitive screenplay which simply had Churchill and Eisenhower (John Slattery) shout at each other in different locations. If Churchill isn’t shouting at Eisenhower, then he’s shouting at his loyal chargé d’affaires Jan Smuts (Richard Durden) or his long-suffering wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson). If nothing else, it’s one of the shoutiest movies ever made as Winston shouts at them on the beaches, in the hills, and at the conference tables.
There are, of course, some marvellous moments, particularly a mercifully quiet and reflective conversation between Churchill and King George VI (James Purefoy) where the two of them face up to the obligations of their duty to their country.
It’s a missed opportunity to explore a fascinating and pivotal moment of real life history and while it doesn’t feel obliged to flatter Churchill, it spends little time exploring his inner demons or providing a more forensic examination of the D-Day plans themselves and Churchill’s apparently controversial alternative.