Skip to Main Content


POL 499: Senior Seminar [Winston Churchill]: Dramatizations

Senior Seminar in Political Science

Young Winston

Young Winston      Winston Churchill grows up in this award-winning 1972 David Attenborough film featuring guns, oratory, and family discord. Based on Churchill's memoirs, the motion picture toggles between the triumphs and failures of Churchill as a soldier, son, student, and citizen. As a boy, Winston is a disappointing idler in the eyes of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, and his teachers at Harrow. But the film is ambiguous in imputing blame for Winston's faults. On the one hand, Lord Randolph neglects and at times tyrannizes Winston at home; on the other, his teachers at Harrow maltreat and dispirit him. The film is clear on one point, though: After graduating high in his class from Sandhurst, young Winston is a glory-seeker while serving as a military officer and war correspondent in India, the Sudan, and South Africa. Always thinking ahead to a career in politics, he braves enemy fire time and again to earn medals and the adulation of newspaper readers. Simon Ward is superb as the young adult Churchill, doubling as actor and narrator and effectively mimicking Churchill's quirks and resounding oratory after winning electing to Parliament. Remarkably, Russell Lewis, who portrays Churchill as a boy, is the mirror image of Ward -- and he also performs with distinction. The rest of the cast also performs brilliantly: Robert Shaw as the august Lord Randolph, who becomes leader of the House of Commons and Chancellor of the Exchequer at age 37, then contracts a debilitating illness; Anne Bancroft as Churchill's doting but ineffectual American mother, Jenny; John Mills as Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, conqueror of the Sudan; and Robert Hardy as the stern Harrow headmaster. Some of Britain's best actors appear briefly in minor roles, including Anthony Hopkins, Nigel Hawthorne, Ian Holm, and Laurence Naismith. All in all, Young Winston is a wonderful motion picture, featuring well staged battle scenes -- familial as well as military -- and a daring escape by Winston during the Boer uprising in South Africa. History teachers will find the film an excellent medium for introducing their students to one of the 20th century's most esteemed and colorful leaders.

The Gathering Storm

   The Gathering Storm  is a compelling look at the lion in wilderness. The lion, of course, is Winston Churchill (Albert Finney) and the wilderness is the political exclusion he endured circa 1938-39. It was during those years that Germany rearmed at an alarming rate; England slept while Adolf Hitler plotted. It was also a time that found Churchill gadflying from opposition to Indian independence to futilely warning England, and the world, about the newly dangerous Nazi Germany.

Such is the political context TGS takes place in, but the movie devotes most of its 90-some minutes to domestic life at Chartwell, Churchill's country estate and the place he amassed and assessed the intelligence on Germany fed to him by a variety of sources, most notably Foreign Office official Ralph Wigram (Linus Roache). Vanessa Redgrave plays Churchill's wife Clemmie, a woman who was as much a match for her famous husband as Redgrave is a match for the superb Finney.

Into the Storm

   Into the Storm follows British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Brendan Gleeson, 28 Days Later) as he launches ferociously into World War II. The movie’s greatest strength comes from a shifting back and forth in time, portraying Churchill’s post-war life as well, when the very qualities that made him so effective as a military leader threaten both his career and his marriage. Anyone seeking a detailed analysis of the war will be disappointed; Into the Storm skips through history, less interested in the ebb and flow of combat than the weighing of decisions and the composition of speeches. Although this may sound uncinematic, Gleeson does a remarkable job articulating Churchill’s creative thoughts as he walks to and fro in his bedclothes, mulling over the right phrase to sustain his country’s morale, or facing FDR and Stalin across a table, working to shape an effective alliance. Janet McTeer (Tumbleweeds) is even better as Clementine Churchill, a woman who never sought the political life yet strove to support her belligerent, passionate husband as best she could. Written by Hugh Whitemore (author of Breaking the Code and The Gathering Storm, to which this is a sort of sequel), Into the Storm is a complex, well-rounded portrait, capturing how courage and indomitability can, in peacetime, turn brutish and bullying. --Bret Fetzer

Churchill and the Generals

   Churchill and the Generals (original UK title) is a lowish budget BBC TV drama that trancends its limitations through a combination of superb casting, acting and script. Some of the finest actors from Britain and USA were assembled to take on the difficult task of making believable characters from well-known historical figures. Such is the breadth of this 180 minute production that many of the actors have but a few lines to leave an impression of their characters. For example the wonderful Ian Richardson steals the plaudits with an all too believable Montgomery. Those who remember this grand old irascible figure from his later years will instantly recognise that his persona, as the public remember it, has been caught to perfection. Timothy West in the title role is instantly believable and the swings of temper and mood surely portray the way it must have been being around this impossible man who embodied the fight against Hitler during the early war years. It would be easy to go through the rest of the superb cast with equally starry-eyed comments on their acting worth. Many of the actors would have been young men during the war and their obvious love of the project shines through this marvellous production. Budget restrictions mean that the interspersed action scenes are taken from wartime footage but the transition from colour to b&w is handled competently. Because of the need to compress five years (from before Churchill's apponitment as Prime Minister to after D-Day) into three hours many important episodes are missed out or not given their true importance but this is historical drama not documentary. Its aim is to get the feel of the events and this it does marellously well.  -- M.J.P. Morrow