Winston Churchill has had a couple of movie cameos recently, and John Lithgow put in a spirited impersonation for the Netflix TV series The Crown. But the last substantial big-screen appearance was by Timothy Spall in The King’s Speech (2010), famously earning a counterblast from Christopher Hitchens for implying that Winston was on the side of poor Bertie during the abdication crisis when in fact he was more infatuated with the dashing soon-to-be Duke of Windsor.
At any rate, this new sentimental/picturesque addition to the cult of Winston, scripted by historian and author Alex von Tunzelmann and directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, is more interesting than it could have been. As jowl-quiveringly portrayed by Brian Cox, Churchill betrays his private agony on the eve of the Normandy invasion of 1944.
He is not portrayed as the usual indomitable war leader, but a has-been and maybe even a faintheart, objecting to the risks involved in the landings and sidelined by the actual military commander Eisenhower, played by Mad Men’s John Slattery, whose silver-fox mane is trimmed to a balding pate.
Interestingly, the film imagines Churchill comparing Normandy to the Gallipoli fiasco of 1915, an amphibious invasion that went wrong but also shows Churchill being paradoxically obsessed with the “soft underbelly” invasion route through Italy, which was pretty much how he saw Gallipoli.
This drama cloyingly invents a doe-eyed secretary for Winston with a sweetheart among the invading forces whose first name is Arthur, Gawd help us. Well, it’s watchable. Miranda Richardson plays Churchill’s wife, Clemmie, shrewdly: imperious, exasperated, gimlet-eyed.