Churchill, a new biopic of one of the greatest 20th century leaders, is a good film. It's a cigar length away from greatness, but it's still better than most of the movies out this year. Churchill features a towering performance from Brian Cox (Deadwood, Super Troopers, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) in the title role, and three jolly good turns from John Slattery as U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower, James Purefoy as King George VI and Miranda Richardson as Clementine, Churchill's iron-willed wife.
A word of caution: Churchill is not an epic chronicling the statesman's life, sweeping across time from battlefields to the ballot box. Instead, author/historian/screenwriter Alex von Tunzelmann wrote a nuanced screenplay dialing down much of Churchill's bombast and portraying him as a man struggling to muster courage while wrestling with his own failings. In the hands of director Jonathan Teplitzky, who helmed the underappreciated The Railway Man, Churchill may be the perfect film for our times.
With the current state of affairs in the world being tested by the winds of war, Churchill is a reminder that saber-rattling is a fool's errand and war is not a place for amateurs. The film is a snapshot of three days in June 1944, when Allied forces were mulling something called Operation Overlord—the world would soon know the operation, on the sixth hour of the sixth day of the sixth month, as D-Day. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is against the plan. Repeatedly pleading with Allied Commander Eisenhower and British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, Churchill balks at the massive attack on the French seaside, fearing a repeat of his own Gallipoli Campaign in 1915, when Churchill—then the British first lord of the Admiralty—landed troops in Turkey in one of history's bloodiest conflicts. Eisenhower, whose repeated debates with Churchill over the D-Day invasion become increasingly heated, explains if the invasion doesn't go as planned, the Allied effort might fail entirely.
"If we don't win this, I don't know what kind of world we'll be left with," Eisenhower tells Churchill.
It's not enough for the British leader, still obsessing over his previous loss in Gallipoli.
"I send men to die. Hundreds, no thousands of them. Their blood soaks my hands," says Churchill.
Meanwhile, sitting quietly nearby, a woman can no longer hold her silence.
"I thought you were the bravest man in England," she tells Churchill, tears streaming down her face. "My fiancee is on one of those ships for Operation Overlord. I don't want to hear that he'll be dead, and I don't want to hear it from you."
What follows is in the history books. Churchill, the movie, isn't about the D-Day invasion. It's about one man's courage and conviction. That should be enough for now.