The first of two movies out this year looking at Britain’s most famous leader, this stars the great Brian Cox as Winston Churchill. Gary OIdman, who will play him later in the year, in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour, should consider this a gauntlet very firmly thrown down indeed.
Cox is terrific in the role, a complex paradox of firmness and frailty, as is Miranda Richardson as his stoically supportive wife, Clementine.
As an actor Cox has always delivered brilliantly as a bad guy, in everything from the X-Men and Jason Bourne franchises to, of course, his first ever on screen portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, in Michael Mann’s peerless Manhunter. But here he gives an iconic good guy real depth, and finds his truth.
Just as Steven Spielberg did with his majestic Lincoln in 2012 and Natalie Portman did with Jackie just last year, Churchill isn’t so much a biopic as it is an intimate character study. It’s a film that isn’t concerned with the stuff we already know – the bombastic speeches, the famous victories – but the man behind the image. Like those two other movies, too, it focuses on one specific moment in a career peppered with so many, to distil the man down into his decisions and reasons why.
In Churchill, that is the countdown to the D-Day landings and Cox showing a leader made vulnerable by the mistakes of his past. Haunted by the casualties of Gallipoli (director Jonathan Teplitzky uses repeated imagery of blood in the surf) and determined to not repeat them, it is a fascinating psychological struggle to witness.
The bottom line
Cox is huge in a role he was born to play.