Brian Cox plays the cigar-chomping Prime Minister, leading the country into what will be the pivotal moment in World War II, the D-Day Landings. Convinced the operation will fail, he argues with his American counterparts and his trusted wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson) in the lead up to that fateful day.
Director Jonathan Teplitzky wisely eschews the normal biopic structure; there would be far too much material for one film. Instead we get something akin to 2006's The Queen, a decisive moment that came to define a public figure. And while it's at times rather liberal with the truth, when dealing with its lead character it’s refreshingly free from iconography, willing to present a side of Churchill you don’t tend to hear about: weakness.
The silhouette of the man we all know is still there, but the magnificent Cox brings a restless frustration to the role. We meet the leader later in the war, his life stifled by depression and his strategising clouded by and the flexing of American military muscle (personified by John Slattery as General Eisenhower). This Churchill is torn by the knowledge he may play a part in sending men to slaughter. Accurate or not, it's an inventive device that shows the humanity behind the soundbites.
The only real fighting takes place in war rooms, with impassioned speeches replacing bullets. This makes for some tense encounters, but it does tend towards the repetitive as the film drags on. Cox's portrait of Churchill is enough to pull the film over the finishing line, but some wider context and a little more visual flair could have made Teplitzky’s film unforgettable.