Churchill’s Black Dog

Whether you are a Churchill fan or detractor, you cannot ignore his ongoing appeal.  From the Guardian

The first record of a screen portrayal of him in the Internet Movie Database dates back to 1914. Since then, he has been fictionalised for film and television dozens of times: portrayed by Richard Burton, Brendan Gleeson, Timothy Spall, Albert Finney, Michael Gambon, Robert Hardy (nine times) and even Christian Slater in 2004’s gleefully inaccurate Churchill: The Hollywood Years. He was played by Julian Fellowes, later the creator of Downton Abbey, in a 1992 episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: Fellowes’ Churchill is dismissive about votes for women until Indy’s dinner date – a young suffragette, played by Elizabeth Hurley – splatters him with trifle. A camp, cavorting Churchill has also appeared this year in the Bollywood film Rangoon, dancing with Adolf Hitler on a map of Europe to the song “Mere Miyan Gaye England” (My Husband is Going to England).

Hardy played Churchill 9 times!

We now will get yet another depiction of the great man, this time by Gary Oldman.

Image result for Gary Oldman Churchill

It is a bit different than most and it may surprise some Churchill fans. You see, throughout his life Churchill battled what he called his “black dog”. He was prone to periods of dark depression. And in this latest depiction, we see this side of Churchill emerge just before the invasion of Normandy in 1944.

The story builds on a historical reality. It was Churchill who took the blame for the diastrous Gallipoli adventure in the First World War where thousands perished in an ill-planned invasion. The failure of the adventure drove Churchill from pulbic life. From this, he knew well what could go wrong during an invasion, and no doubt that awareness plagued him during the buildup for the Normandy invasion.  Not just the intellectual awareness of the risk, but the emotional memory of the black depression that came after the disaster.

At the same time, more than anything else, Churchill the man insisted upon making his mark on history. He was not just ambitious. He felt and nurtured the urge to dominate the historical moment. He did that in the early days of the war. But by June, 1944, it would be the soldiers who would dominate the moment. Churchill could do nothing but wait for the results from the field of battle. This too must have been extremely difficult for him to accept, and the records show that he had difficulty dealing with it.

So we have the chance to see Churchill in one of his more vulnerable moments.  The filmmaker claims that this humanizes the figure. Does it really? Must we get a close up view of the warts in order to appreciate the life story of a great man?

Good question. And there is one more thing about Chuchill that emerges here. The man was essentially an open book. You knew where he was coming from and why he took the positions that he did. He was open about his feelings as well. They were deep and genuine. And perhaps what we see here more than anything else is that Churchill was not just another dude in a suit.

The open embrace of the historical moment gave Churchill an incredible voice. And you can just imagine what that voice would be saying in reaction to the tawdry politics of our own day.


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