Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years (1981)

TV Mini-Series  |   |  Biography, Drama, History
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The story of Winston Churchill's life between 1929, when he lost his cabinet position, and 1939, when he joined Great Britain's War Cabinet - a period he described as the most difficult in his life.

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Series cast summary:
 Winston Churchill (8 episodes, 1981)
 Clementine Churchill (8 episodes, 1981)
 Randolph Churchill (8 episodes, 1981)
 Brendan Bracken (8 episodes, 1981)
 Stanley Baldwin (8 episodes, 1981)
Eric Porter ...
 Neville Chamberlain (8 episodes, 1981)
 Sir Samuel Hoare (8 episodes, 1981)
David Swift ...
 Professor Lindemann (6 episodes, 1981)
Sherrie Hewson ...
 Mrs. Pearman (6 episodes, 1981)
Robert James ...
 Ramsay McDonald (5 episodes, 1981)
Marcella Markham ...
 Nancy Astor (5 episodes, 1981)
Chloe Salaman ...
 Sarah Churchill (4 episodes, 1981)
Derek Ensor ...
 Speaker of the House (4 episodes, 1981)
Paul McDowell ...
 Butler at Chartwell (4 episodes, 1981)


The story of Winston Churchill's life between 1929, when he lost his cabinet position, and 1939, when he joined Great Britain's War Cabinet - a period he described as the most difficult in his life.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis





Release Date:

16 January 1983 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Winston Churchill  »

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Technical Specs


(8 episodes)


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Did You Know?


Robert Hardy and Günter Meisner have both played their respective roles of Churchill and Hitler in other films as well. Notably, Meisner played Hitler in The Winds of War (1983) while Hardy played Churchill in the sequel, War and Remembrance (1988). See more »


In the first episode, "Down and Out," Churchill is seen giving a speech in the USA in 1929. A US flag is visible to his right, and the field (with the stars) is visible. The stars are in staggered rows, meaning it is a 50 star US flag. A 48-star flag, as in use in 1929, would have even rows of stars (six rows of eight). See more »


Referenced in 28 Up (1984) See more »

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User Reviews

Winnie in the Doldrums
11 May 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This series was a wonderful and unexpected one a quarter century ago. Based on a book of the same name, it traced the missing period of Winston Churchill's career. Having been a leading figure in political life from 1903 to 1929, and risen to such posts as Home Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Churchill was cast adrift when the Tories under Stanley Baldwin lost office to the Labor Party of Ramsay MacDonald in a general election. For awhile Baldwin and Churchill were sitting next to each other on the front opposition bench in the House of Commons, but Baldwin was not that happy about this. He knew that Churchill was a potential Tory rival for leadership, and Baldwin wanted to control those who would succeed him while he held power.

The series did not quite explain Churchill's weakness here - in 1903, when he first made his name in politics, Churchill was a Tory M.P. This was traditional, because his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, had also been a Tory M.P. But Lord Randolph had been a maverick, who built up a block of Tories (one was future Prime Minister Arthur Balfour) called the Fourth Party, and had done considerable damage to Lord Salisbury's party in the 1880s. Lord Randolph did end up as Chancellor of Exchequer in 1887, but a political showdown miscalculation with Salisbury finished his career (a case of syphilis also ruined it). Winston took his father's independence to heart. He announced his rejection of the Tory policies of his day, and "crossed the aisle" to sit with the Liberal Party. Denounced for his treason to his father's party, Winston actually rose to power from 1903 to 1923 as a Liberal Party leader. But in 1916 there was a power struggle between the Liberal Prime Minister (Asquith) and his successor (Lloyd George). Winston sided with Lloyd George, and this was fine while a complicated half-Liberal/half-Tory coalition existed. But it collapsed in 1922. The following year Winston announced his disillusion with Liberal Party politics and crossed back to the Tories. Baldwin accepted it, as Churchill was experienced and smart. He made him Chancellor of Exchequer in his 1924-1929 administration. But Baldwin (as I said) did not trust Churchill.

The series never makes this clear, although Baldwin is shown to be a smart politician (Winston later acknowledged that Stanley was the most formidable politician he ever met). It follows how Baldwin managed for most of the 1930s to manipulate the weakling MacDonald (who split his party on a coalition government in 1931) to keep Churchill out of the government, and then to keep him out of the Tory government of 1935-37. Some of this was due to Churchill's own blundering - he opposed Baldwin's willingness to work with Gandhi on eventual Indian independence, and he supported the pro-Nazi Edward VIII in the abdication crisis. Baldwin left office in 1937, having chosen Nevil Chamberlain his successor. In retrospect Baldwin was one of Britain's most successful Prime Ministers, except he could not move as fast as he wanted in rearming in the face of Nazi aggression (he did do what he could, but the Labour Party and the Tories were not as willing to rearm as he was).

Chamberlain would also keep Churchill at bay, but he came acropper due to Hitler's aggressions and Munich. But Churchill would not be called back until Britain would return to war in 1939, and would not become Prime Minister until 1940.

The series was fair in showing that Baldwin was a clever political manipulator. And Eric Porter did a marvelous job as Baldwin's right hand man (and successor) Chamberlain, reminding the audience that had it been a peaceful period Chamberlain would have reformed the British education system and the tax system. He just was tragically unprepared to handle Hitler (who indeed was?). Best was Robert Hardy, whose Churchill was the best ever done dramatically on television. Not only his political miscalculations were shown, but his financial problems, his growing literary work (remember, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature as a historian), and his family problems with wife Clementine (Sian Philips), who had an affair, and his son Randolph, who was too undisciplined to have a political career. One hopes the series will be shown again someday.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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