Sunday, November 30, 2014

Winston Churchill: A comparison of two movies

On both sides of the Atlantic (particularly in the English-speaking world), there is still a great deal of interest in Winston Churchill. He is considered an inspirational figure by many (including myself), who is often compared to Lincoln in both his wartime leadership and - to a large degree - his extraordinary way with words. Both had the ability to win public support for their war with powerful rhetorical language and persuasive speaking, and Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his memoirs.

His gift with words is undoubtedly a big part of his memoirs' popularity, but there is also the fact that his life story itself is unusually interesting; especially the most visible accomplishment of his being the British prime minister during World War II. But there's more to his story than the high-profile portion of his life; and if you're interested in hearing some other important parts, there are some movies available from which to get some info. I should give a disclaimer that I'm only aware of two movies - I have not read Mr. Churchill's memoirs, and I do not claim to be anything approaching an expert about his life. But I have some important information to offer about these two movies, and hope that this will help anyone interested in Mr. Churchill.

One of them is a BBC movie called "The Gathering Storm," a title that comes from the first volume of Mr. Churchill's memoirs. In it, Albert Finney of Jason-Bourne-villain fame plays the prewar Churchill, who is trying to convince the British Parliament of the Nazi threat. This focuses entirely on the buildup to the war, and Winston's being seen as something of a pariah for his unpopular warnings about Germany. Like many a British production, the cast is superb, not the least of whom is Vanessa Redgrave as Churchill's wife. They depict this somewhat rocky period in the Churchills' marriage, which fortunately is not the main focus of the movie, but which was an important aspect of Winston's life at this time, and thus could not be ignored.

Winston Churchill in British army, 1916
(during the First World War)

The other movie about his life - and the one I will be spending the rest of this blog post on - is a British-made documentary about his life. It is a comprehensive biography which uses real photos and footage of the man, and it is available in America as a History-Channel-brand DVD. But the documentary is definitely a British production, which is fortunate, because the History Channel's productions usually aren't as good as those by PBS, or the various British networks. They also have lots of interviews with his associates, from various family members to an old war buddy from the trenches of the Western Front (Winston was a soldier in World War One); and the interviewees also include his secretary, one of FDR's sons, and a number of other eyewitnesses to his life - many of whom are now long dead, and could not be interviewed today.

Yalta Conference with FDR and Stalin, 1945

Churchill visits ruins of Coventry Cathedral, 1941

When I say "comprehensive biography," I mean that it's not just focused on one part of his life, although there is a disproportionate focus on the war period. The first episode covers everything prior to his becoming prime minister; including his childhood, his early war experiences, and his unpopular warnings about Germany during the buildup period. The second and third episodes cover his wartime leadership during World War II; from his relations with FDR and Stalin, to his able campaign to build public support for the war, to the management of the military strategy. And the fourth episode covers his postwar career, which (unknown to many Americans) includes being the prime minister a second time during the Cold War fifties, where he worked with the American president Dwight Eisenhower. Fortunately for their relationship, Churchill had been a great advocate of appointing the American general Eisenhower as the supreme commander; and the two of them had worked closely together during the war. After the war, Churchill was nearly as outspoken against Soviet Russia as he had been against Nazi Germany, giving the famous "Iron Curtain" speech; and his economic policies tend to fit nicely into the conservative movements of today.

Churchill waves to crowds in Whitehall, V-E Day 1945
(the day Germany surrendered)

Churchill and General Eisenhower in 1951, shortly before
Churchill becomes prime minister for second time
and Eisenhower becomes president of America

I don't want this blog post to get much longer than it is already, so I will end this post with a good word for both movies. If you're interested in a Hollywood-style movie about the buildup to the war, "The Gathering Storm" might be for you. And if you want a comprehensive biography that uses real footage, this excellent documentary might suit you nicely. Both are quite good, and I recommend both of them to Churchill enthusiasts.

"The Gathering Storm" DVD at Amazon

Churchill documentary DVD at Amazon

If you liked this post, you might also like:

Franklin D. Roosevelt movie

Dwight Eisenhower movies

Harry Truman movie

World War II miniseries

Cold War miniseries

(I included the last one because Churchill was an important figure in the early Cold War, with his "Iron Curtain" speech being of particular importance.)

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