In the days before D-Day in WWII, Winston Churchill (Brian Cox) is doing just about everything he can to convince the Allied forces that they need to change their plans. With only 96 hours until the proposed operation, Churchill is ignored, ridiculed, and swept aside. Fearful that this operation will end in the same way as one he led in Gallipoli in 1915, Churchill must try to come to terms with his demons, find faith in his fellow commanders, and bring hope to the people.
It seems as if director Jonathan Teplitzky and writer Alex von Tunzelmann’s Churchill goes against much of what many may think of the famous leader. A well spoken leader who helped lead the world to victory over Hitler is not exactly the portrayal you’ll find here. Instead, Churchill is treated like a rambling old man, out of touch with the way the war is going and leading through fear of repeating the mistakes of his past. He’s ignored and ridiculed, left to feel insulted at every turn as nobody will listen to him. In the end, he’s wrong though, so it’s hard to feel like any of his disgust and disgrace really meant anything.
It’s also hard to get behind a film where an incredible amount of time (nearly 80 minutes of it’s 105 minute running time) is simply people shouting at each other. Churchill shouts at Dwight Eisenhower (John Slattery). He shouts at Bernard Montgomery (Julian Wadham). He’ll even shout at his wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson), his new secretary Helen (Ella Purnell) and his good friend Jan Smuts (Richard Durden). The only person he doesn’t shout at is King George VI (James Purefoy). And every person he shouts at, will shout back. The performances are well done, but start to feel one note when everybody is just always yelling.
Cox does get his moments to shine towards the end of the film when Churchill accepts the fact that he’s better off supporting the others, instead of fighting them. Here, his doubt and fears become more clear, while the performance of Cox finally shows off something more than grumbly shouts. It’s also the only time the film slows down to show some tiny moments. Before that, everything is huge and impactful, as if every moment of every day consisted of nothing more than major manoeuvres, planning, and elegant speeches. Churchill never takes a moment to look at the way life is affected by the war, unless someone happens to be yelling it.
It quickly becomes tedious and a little ridiculous. Everybody speaks in rousing speeches, taking even the smallest moment into a grand theatrical performance. This makes everything feel rather inauthentic, as it’s hard to believe that anybody could possibly carry on talking this way each and every day. It all becomes too much, and that’s even more apparent when the film actually does slow down in the final 20 minutes. If Churchill had carried that momentum and focus on more ranged performances, it might have been something spectacular.