Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

"The film breaks the rule that says Winston saved us, he cannot be criticised" | Photo: Salon Pictures/Getty Images

Despite the title, this is not a biopic. It should have been called Churchoverthehill.

For too long the great man's flaws have been filtered and forgotten. What matters is he won the war with rousing speeches about fighting at the seaside and standing up against fascist murderers.

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The film starts on a beach. The old boy is there staring into the waves which appear to be dark with blood. In his mind, yes, he is haunted by what happened at Gallipoli. This is the image. The bodies of young men. Thousand. Cut down in their prime. Under his watch.

D-Day is only hours away. Summer, 1944. Churchill is fearful. He pleads with Eisenhower to delay. Those young men... not again...please God let it rain.

Ike politely ignores him. Monty, too. Alan Brooke says, "I feel like a man chained to a lunatic." Churchill rages, "This plan is for slaughter!" He goes back into his bunker and screams at his secretary. Clemmie admonishes him. She's always picking up his bits, arranging his wardrobe, clearing his chaos. She's had enough. "When was the last time you listened to anyone?" He pours another brandy, lights another cigar.

"Why don't you just have me stuffed?"

Howling like a wounded lion. Not sleeping, drinking too much, his glory days past, the war taken over by an American.

"What am I? A clown entertaining the masses?"

The film breaks the rule that says Winston saved us, he cannot be criticised. Rookie screenwriter Alex von Tunzelmann and director Jonathan Teplitzky have torn down the curtain, exposing an arrogant, self opinionated tyrant, only too aware of his iconic status. Due to a limited budget there are no grand scenes of troop movements, or ships sailing towards Normandy. The war cabinet is small and the cast carefully chosen.

As a portrait of a leader who is losing his grip Teplitsky turns cartwheels to avoid humiliation. Respectful? Hardly. Truthful? Maybe. Churchill was known to treat his pretty young secretaries like dirt. He was almost certainly an alcoholic and his addiction to cigars beyond restraint. The energy remained, however, even if the body was disobedient. The word "Churchilian" meant something then, not so much at home or in the office, but outside in the streets, in the country. Why knock it?

He insisted on leading his soldiers into battle as the Allied armada approached the shores of France. He tried to persuade the king to join him. Surely not? Worse things have happened at sea.

This film is funny. Grumpy Old Men have nothing on this guy. Some of the lines are gut creasers, others giggle wrigglers. You have to forget who the butt of the jokes is. History's Greatest Englishman?

Brian Cox has a face of carved granite. The camera loves it. His performance is not so much an impersonation as the reflection of a psyche and you can't keep your eyes off him. Was he born to play this role? If so he had to wait until the time was right and now is that time, now is that moment. As for Miranda Richardson she invests Clemmie with a strength of character that withstands Winston's intolerance and bullying.

Together they bring to the film a genuine aura of excellence.

Reviewed on: 12 Jun 2017
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Churchill packshot
The British prime minister in the run-up to D-Day.
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