When dealing with a subject as strong in character and intimidating in presence as Winston Churchill, to fully understand the protagonist in cinematic form, you need to get behind the facade and explore the vulnerability at hand. It’s here Jonathan Teplitzky’s biopic comes into its element, as not only do we scrutinise the physical frailty of the great leader, but his psychological fragilities too, as his dependable judgement is called into question.
Set in the 24 hours that preceded D-Day, allowing the film to adopt tropes of the thriller genre – Churchill (Brian Cox) is a lone rejective voice in a choir of men desperate to liberate Europe from its Nazi occupation. The battle plans have been readied, and the army are ready to put an end to this war once and for all – and while the American counterparts are seeking the much-needed go-ahead, regrettably for them Churchill is overly-cautious, remembering the devastation that occurred in Gallipoli during the First World War. The leader wants to protect both the lives of his soldiers, and his legacy as Prime Minister, but with time working against them, they’re going to have to come to some sort of arrangement, and fast.
Set over this one, fateful day – you could argue that to get to the truth of the character by taking this approach requires more skill from a filmmaker than had they moved between years, or even decades, where the biopic genre can take on the form of merely ticking boxes. Yet Tepliztky captures the essence of the eponymous lead, and much of this is down to the fact that surrounding the dramatic narrative comes brief, intimate sequences featuring Churchill just on his own, or speaking candidly alone with his wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson). You could argue it’s here we understand him best – yet thanks to the ticking clock approach, and the severe implications of the PM’s decision, we do get to experience the dramatic side to the subject without it feeling forced in its implementation, as naturally given the circumstances we indulge in several of his famous, weighty, impassioned speeches.
Cox turns in a brilliant display in the lead role, though sadly it’s cheapened somewhat by the contrived, persistent reminder of the horrors of protagonist’s experiences during the First World War, which while serving as a vital plot-device, is presented via cliched flashbacks, all too unsubtle in its execution. It’s emblematic of a film that while compelling in parts, may well have found its home more so on a smaller screen, feeling all too televisual in its approach.