Churchill ***

Solid performances and a compelling story highlight this strong drama. 

Is it worth $10? Yes

It’s easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to regard the Allied invasion of Normandy France on June 6, 1944, as a no brainer. History records that it was a decisive victory for the Allies and a major turning point toward the final victory in World War II. As “Churchill” shows, not having the benefit of history and knowing the outcome of an event paints it in an entirely different light.

The invasion, known as Operation Overlord by the Allied forces, weighs heavily on the conscience of Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Brian Cox). The plan for the invasion reminds him far too much of the disastrous invasion of Gallipoli during the first World War, where so many lives were needlessly and senselessly lost. He will not allow the mistakes of the past to be repeated in the present, a view that he strongly expresses much to the chagrin of Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery) and British Army General Bernard Montgomery (Julian Wadham).

The real-life Churchill has gone down in history as one of Britain’s greatest Prime Ministers, if not the greatest prime minister (all due respect to Lord Palmerston and Pitt the Elder, of course). As such, there is a myth that has been built around the man that leads one to believe he was unshakeable and infallible. This belief was even held at the time, as the unwavering devotion of his personal secretary Helen (Ella Purnell) demonstrates.

“Churchill,” thankfully, looks past these superficialities and cuts to the core of the man. As portrayed in “Churchill,” he does not think that the D-Day invasion is a good plan. It’s too risky and will cost too many lives. He cannot have the guilt of another Gallipoli-level massacre on his conscience. He insists that if the plan must move forward, he must be the one to lead the charge into battle. Reason and cooler heads prevail, and in one of the movie’s most crushing and heartfelt scenes, the reasons why are clearly laid bare to him by King George VI (James Purefoy).

Another sounding board for Winston Churchill is his dutiful wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson). She refuses to coddle him, and he’s better off for it. “Churchill” not only shows the immense amount of pressure and difficulty for a world leader, it also shows the pressure and difficulty of being married to one.

Cox plays Churchill as a cigar-chomping, brandy drinking elder statesman of yore. There is a certain dignity to the part of Churchill that Cox really nails, and this is one of the best performances of his career. Even when doing something as mundane as getting dressed for an important meeting, Churchill is always the most important man in the room, and it’s clear that he’s in control. There are times when Cox, for whatever reason, reminded me of Albert Finney (this is a compliment), but for the most part the Brian Cox that I know from countless other movies vanishes into the role and embodies Winston Churchill with heroic aplomb.

If “Churchill” has any weakness, it’s that it sometimes gets a bit too sentimental and contemplative. There are moments of Churchill sitting or walking slow, with sad music playing, and it’s all laid on a bit thick. It also makes the movie feel a bit more sluggish than it otherwise would have been. While I won’t give “Churchill” a completely perfervid (to use a word I learned from the movie) recommendation, the well-written characters and drama coupled with fine performances across the board, particularly by Cox, make this movie worth the time and money to see in theatres.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

Cron Job Starts