In “Churchill,” Brian Cox plays Winston Churchill with pure bluster, shouting at anyone in sight and chewing up so much scenery there are practically holes in the walls of the sets.
It’s a showy performance in a small movie that is micro-focused on Churchill during the four days leading up to D-Day. Cox attempts to distill Churchill’s life into that very short period of time, and director Jonathan Teplitzky (working from a tepid script by first-time screenwriter Alex von Tunzelmann) has no way to reign him in. So Cox rages, and the film simply shrugs and goes along for the ride.
Cox, the veteran character actor, would make a strong Churchill in a different project; he plays him with the fury of an actor pouring his heart out in a one-man show. Put that on Broadway and it would be worth a trip. Here it’s too much, and the pieces around him don’t add up to enough to make it work.
In the film, Churchill is 69 and is coming to grips with his age, wrestling with giving up control as a leader and questioning his legacy. He foolishly wants to see action on the battlefield and has to be told he cannot. He fights with his wife (Miranda Richardson), with whom he has a strained personal relationship, because work has always come first. And he bristles at Dwight D. Eisenhower (John Slattery), whose leadership he questions.
There is plenty to dig into in the character, but “Churchill” is heavy-handed, not subtle, playing everything to the cheap seats. Cox’s Churchill wields his cigar with the might of a baseball bat, huffing and puffing like a dragon. But in the end, “Churchill” is just blowing smoke.
Rated PG for thematic elements, brief war images, historical smoking throughout, and some language
Running time: 110 minutes