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CHURCHILL: 2 STARS. “a misleading look at modern history.”

Winston Churchill, two time Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and, according to a 2002 poll, the Greatest Briton of all time, has been played on screens big and small by everyone from Orson Welles and John Houseman to John Cleese and Richard Burton. Recently John Lithgow was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance of the British Bulldog on “The Crown,” and now along comes Brian Cox as the great man in a not-so-great movie.

Set in the four day lead up to the Allied D-Day landings in Normandy, France in June, 1944 “Churchill” presents a different take on the prime minister than we’ve seen before. Cox plays him as a sixty-nine-year-old man exhausted by the weight of power, terrified of repeating the mistakes made at the bloody World War I Battle of Gallipoli. A personal and professional downward spiral following discord with Generals Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Montgomery (Julian Wadham), is slowed by intervention from the PM’s wife, the strong willed Clementine Churchill (Miranda Richardson)

Feature films are not documentaries nor are they history lessons, but “Churchill’s” fast-and-loose relationship with the truth does not play well. While it is true that Churchill did have misgivings about the D-Day invasion the timeframe has been twisted for dramatic effect. Writer Godfrey Cheshire reports that writer and historian Alex von Tunzelmann “’telescoped’ the events of Churchill’s opposition, bringing them from months earlier to the days just before the invasion.” In an effort to link Churchill’s documented depression with one of the key events of WWII she goes nonlinear with history but fails to draw any real drama from her contrived version of events.

Cox grandstands throughout, perhaps in an effort to overcompensate for the cliché dialogue. “Sometimes you can’t lead everything from the front,” he bellows as though saying it louder amplifies its meaning. The gruff portrayal falls into caricature early on and has a hard time transcending into something compelling, let alone the psychological examination director Jonathan Teplitzky had in mind.

James Purefoy as King George VI and Richardson fare better but are bowled over by a script that suffers form a lack of subtlety.

“Churchill” is a beautiful looking movie, but it isn’t history or a portrait of a real person. Instead it is a misleading look at one of the most important eras in modern history.

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