The Gathering Storm (1974 TV Movie)
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Yes, I think this will be news to many people. If that's the case, it might better have been presented as a documentary with a narration and lots and lots of colorful maps with moving arrows and other glitzy graphics. "Poland? You mean as in Poland Springs Water?" It's unfair to the unknowing to hear Churchill making a brief, one- or two-sentence description of Norway being a passageway for Sweden's steel shipments to Germany, and a cut to Churchill's wife (McKenna) holding a newspaper whose lead says something about an attack on Norway. I just don't know how many of us are ready to make that cognitive leap.
As Churchill, Burton does a pretty good job of imitating Churchill's public voice, although when he becomes angry he brays. He gives us a gruff Churchill, whose only humor is expressed through sarcastic insults toward his fellow pols, the foreign office, and Herr Hitler.
The Germans are no more than stereotypes. Von Ribbentrop (Hardy) is one of those smilers with a knife. I'm afraid Ian Bannen -- a fine, innovative actor -- is lost in the role of Hitler. He looks and sounds like Ian Bannen with a mustache and a funny haircut. Neville Chamberlain is played as a weakling and a fool by Bailey, although Churchill gets to mouth some sensible words in his defense.
Nobody ever claimed that Neville Chamberlain was a tower of strength and resolve, but I've always thought he got a bad rap on Munich. He came home with a treat signed by Herr Hitler promising that no more territory would be bothered by the Nazis, which is exactly what the wary British people wanted. What else could he have done? Would he have prevented World War II by declaring war on the spot? Chamberlain's humiliation when he's replaced as PM is very moving.
In the final scene, Churchill delivers his stirring speech about "blood, toil, tears, and sweat", and it's very effective because Burton has a greater capacity for bombast than Churchill, even though Burton was drunk and Churchill was a politician. Churchill, as much as anything else, was a fine writer and speaker, precise and articulate, and this film captures those qualities well.
The script is as boring as the plot, which follows Churchill's political role in the years leading up to WWII. I actually couldn't get through the entire thing. Much of the movie was fast-forwarded, but I didn't escape without suffering through a ridiculously campy temper tantrum from Ian Bannen as Hitler. The movie ends with a very tired sounding "Victory at all costs" speech. I'm pretty sure any other Churchill movie would be better than this one, so take your pick.
My only regret is that "The Gathering Storm", along with "The Valiant Years" is unavailable on DVD for home viewing.