#6 on the Dunkirk countdown this week is a plucky little can-do film about a guy who just wants invasion his own way. Performed by Jonathan Teplitzky and the Cox-swains, put your hands together for “Churchill.”

If this film were all I knew about Winston Churchill, I wouldn’t have believed the man lived beyond the age of 25. It would seem that England’s Prime Minister during World War II lived in a world where every single syllable he uttered was a grave foreboding set to dramatic music. And the only time his mouth wasn’t agape to deliver a speech warning the downfall of the Western world was when he stuffed it with a cigar or a small sea of whiskey.

Not unlike the film Lincoln, Churchill covers not a broad spectrum of personal life, but a limited slice of time late in the war. We start and end in the first week of June, 1944, which is a bit of a cheat: the best of Winston Churchill occurred during the London Blitz years earlier. As of this moment in time, Churchill (Brian Cox) is dead set against the Normandy Invasion set for June 6 and can’t not tell anybody who will listen his feelings again and again and again. This is, of course, a tad late, Winnie; the D-Day plans have been set for a month. But sigh Winston is having Gallipoli flashbacks and just knows the invasion plans are doomed.

Like a psychotic who just got a glimpse of the end of days, Churchill has decided to spend the last week before D-Day playing Chicken Little, constantly overacting to the embarrassment of General Eisenhower (John Slattery), General Montgomery (Julian Wadham) and King George VI (James Purefoy). At the latter, Cox was so insistent on controlling the action that many of us will forget the monarch is same guy with a stuttering problem (as we learned from The King’s Speech). Hey, hey, royal dude, stick a s-s-s-s-ock in it; this film is not about you, man.

While the fellow brass treat the irascible and oft petulant Churchill like an overindulged child, one performance actually sticks out: Miranda Richardson (as Clementine Churchill) painfully accommodated Winston’s tunnel vision bluster as only a spouse would. Oh yeah, there is a real actor in this film, isn’t there? The dynamic throughout is fairly embarrassing – Brian Cox insists at all times that this is his film, cuz he has the star on the dressing room, but to tell any Churchill story properly, one needs context. Context requires support.

There’s a reason why Brian Cox isn’t a lead actor. Oh, he can find a character all right, but it’s as if he’s acting in a box, like every line somehow needs a Shakespearean emphasis along either the “Once more unto the breach” or “out damned spot” variety. He spends the entirety of Acts I & II barking at people rather than interacting with them. Cox’s performance strikes me as somebody who didn’t learn the first names of his fellow actors until the third week of shooting. The result is that for good or bad, Winston Churchill seems unbalanced and out-of-touch. This is almost certainly the plan of Jonathan Teplitzky, whose idea of an even performance is to show pig-headed daft Winston suddenly morph into pig-headed leader Winston.

Upon reflection, Churchill is one of those rare films in which all the action actually takes place off-screen. I suppose this is worth it if you like thrillers in which the denouement is a man sitting down delivering a speech. Hey, why not? The last one won Best Picture. Unless you’re a big fan of Modern English history, however, give this one a wide berth.

♪Welcome to the war
There’s no turning back
Hey, I got a beef
Here I find you
Acting under Eisenhower
Just who put that jerk in power?
Everybody wants to save the world♫

Rated PG, 92 Minutes
D: Jonathan Teplitzky
W: Alex von Tunzelmann
Genre: Acting!
Type of person most likely to enjoy this film: Relatives of Brian Cox
Type of person least likely to enjoy this film: Historians, I imagine

♪ Parody inspired by “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”

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