Cranky History

Winston and the terrible, no good, very bad D-Day

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Churchill
Roxy Theatre

Opens June 23
3 out of 5

It’s practically a rite of passage for older British actors to play Winston Churchill. Sometimes you get Albert Finney (probably the definitive one) or Brendan Gleeson. Other times, you have to put up with a skinny Richard Burton’s overly reverential take on the last lion.

A product of the revisionist attitude towards Churchill’s years in office, Brian Cox not only looks the part, but embodies the contradiction of a born leader consumed by hubris. Set on the days before D-Day, Churchill presents a man not coping well with lesser responsibilities during the war effort:  The blitz has ended and military strategy is in the hands of General Dwight Eisenhower (a terrific John Slattery, Mad Men).

Pride aside, Churchill has legitimate concerns regarding D-Day: the British Bulldog fought during WWI and has misgivings over concentrating the bulk of Allied forces in close proximity to one another in a thin strip of land. The number of casualties could be enormous and a defeat could give the crumbling Axis a boost.

Both Eisenhower and the British High Command have all but discounted Churchill and tasked him with rallying the citizens whatever the outcome of the operation. Suffice to say, Winston doesn’t take well to becoming a figurehead.

The weight of the film falls squarely on Brian Cox and, to a lesser degree, Miranda Richardson as Clementine Churchill, Winston’s wife and the only one (outside King George VI) able to influence him. Cox does a great job portraying a control freak without the power to impose his will while Richardson is equally strong as a woman conflicted about her marriage, yet with a strong sense of duty.

The veracity of this peek behind the curtain is far from ironclad, but Churchill is feasible enough to feel like a novel approach. Anyone with a passing interest in the second world war or taking historical figures down a peg or two should enjoy it. ❧