In the 1930s, Sir Winston Churchill was out of government, sitting as a backbench M.P. His was a lonely voice warning about German rearmament and the coming of a second major war on the continent. He lost a great deal of money in the Wall Street crash and now writes, a biography of his ancestor the Duke of Marlborough, a newspaper column, and it's his only means of support. He has a close-knit group of supporters, not the least of whom is his wife Clemmie, who he loves very dearly. As he continues to press his concerns about Hitler, he is cast as a warmonger and frequently shouted down in Parliament by members on both sides of the aisle. With reliable information from a Foreign Office civil servant who feels the government is not accurately reporting on rearmament, he provides accurate figures to Parliament and the tide begins to turn. With the on-set of World War II in September 1939, Churchill returns to government as First Lord of Admiralty.Written by
Ralph Wigram, C.M.G. (the Foreign Office secretary who provided information on clandestine German rearmament) was one of four leading individuals amongst a group of around twenty who assisted Sir Winston Churchill in this manner. It is agreed that he provided this information with the tacit consent of his supervisor, Sir Robert Vansittart, who was also alarmed by the rearmament. While this movie seems to indicate that Wigram's efforts were illegal, Churchill was an M.P. and Privy Counselor, which would grant him access to such information. Wigram had been thwarted by the Baldwin regime and he took things as far as holding a press conference in 1936, but this garnered little attention. This sharing of secret documents with Churchill began in late 1934 and lasted for two years, when he apparently committed suicide in December 1936. Wigram's wife Ava made several trips to Germany before the outbreak of the war and shared her observations in her correspondence with Churchill. In 1941, nearly five years after Robert's death, Ava married Sir John Anderson, a member of the War Cabinet who became Chancellor of the Exchequer. She passed away in 1974 at the age of eighty-seven. As for his temperament and character, Wigram's secretary referred to him as "the authentic local deity" and "the departmental volcano." He was also described by others as having a visionary understanding of what was secretly unfolding in Germany. In Churchill's multi-volume history of World War II, he referred to Wigram as one of the great unsung heroes. See more »
During the 'Battle of Blenheim' scene, the Union Jack is shown as one of the colors of the English army. The Union Jack was only used as a battle-standard after the Act Of Union in 1707, three years after the Battle of Blenheim. See more »
Sir Robert Vansittart:
Do you know what Lloyd George said about him? "He'd use the skin of his mother as a drum to sound his own praises."
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There are so many excellent elements to this film that I almost feel churlish (there's a good English word for you) in saying that it ultimately left me a little bit dissatisfied. The entire cast was outstanding. So complete was his transformation into Churchill that I forgot about Albert Finney, the actor, within a few minutes of the start. Even the small roles had first-rate actors. Seeing the forlorn, tired look on the face of Derek Jacobi's Stanley Baldwin as he sits in the House of Commons enduring Churchill's speeches denouncing his government's inaction was in itself worth what I paid for HBO this month.
The cinematography and the art direction were both wonderful as well. In terms of history (which is very important to me) I was delighted to walk away feeling that I had a much deeper understanding of Churchill as a human being on his way to becoming a figure of history. It's rare that such insights come to us in historical films. I also pleased that there was no attempt made to conceal Churchill's flaws as a politician. As Jim Broadbent's character says, "He's wrong about India, of course." And so he was.
So why the bit of dissatisfaction? It was the fact that in the middle too much time is spent on the sub-plot of Ralph Wilgram. It's not that this part of the story wasn't interesting, but rather that I thought it took us from Churchill too far and for too long. I thought this diversion took a lot of steam out of the film. Instead of the extended focus on Wilgram I wished for greater depth on the more Winston-centric sub-plots such as his complex relationships with wife, family, and political party. In fact, I at about an hour and 45 minutes, I thought the film was too short.
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