Film Discussion

Darkest Hour: Winston Churchill at the Movies

Winston Churchill, being one of Britain’s most iconic politicians and leader through World War Two and a man who is regularly voted among the greatest ever Brits, has been portrayed many times both on the big and small screen, most latterly in Darkest Hour where he is played by Gary Oldman alongside Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI and Kristen Scott Thomas as Churchill’s wife Clementine in a movie which covers the start of his tenure as leader of the United Kingdom during the early stages of the war.

The movie, directed by Joe Wright and written by Anthony McCarten, has already been nominated for nine BAFTA’s including best film and best actor in a leading role and is likely to be in contention for an Academy Award or two.

The first time Churchill was played on film was before he even became Prime Minister when in 1935 C.M. Hallard featured as the man in Royal Cavalcade in what was, according to the ever reliable Wikipedia, a pastiche of events from the life of King George V. Clips of this can be found on Youtube and Churchill is far from prominent. It is not just limited to biopics or cameos either. Churchill has featured in sci-fi with Paradox, a 2010 made for TV movie where he plays a sorcerer in an alternate version of our world where science is not known and magic rules. It sounds like a mish-mash of Bright and Harry Potter.

He also featured in the ridiculous, and terrible Churchill: The Hollywood Years with Christian Slater playing another alternate version in a twisted version of history where Churchill was actually an American GI who stole the enigma code and… yea, the less said about this the better but it provided a payday for a whole host of British comedians who should really have known better including Rik Mayall, Harry Enfield, John Culshaw, Vic Reeves, Bob Mortimer, Sally Phillips and Steve Pemberton. Its opening weekend saw a gross of  £148,326.

Elsewhere Timothy Spall has fleetingly played the great man in the Oscar winning The King’s Speech and Rod Taylor had a cameo as Churchill in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds in what turned out to be his final film role.

Focusing more on biopics and films with Churchill more front and centre Brian Cox starred in Churchill released just last year and looking at the time leading up to D-Day and Michael Gambon played the role in Churchill’s Secret which centred around the stroke he suffered during his second spell as Prime Minister in 1953 while Brendon Gleeson one a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Leading Actor in an HBO TV movie titled Into The Storm which itself was a sequel to The Gathering Storm where Albert Finney played the role.

There was even a 1972 film titled Young Winston which was nominated for Best Screenplay at the Oscars. As the title suggests it portrays Winston Churchill’s childhood and early life including him serving as an officer in India and the Sudan.

Plenty of foreign films have featured Churchill too with him being such an iconic and important figure in history. Casablanca Express is an Italian movie about an attempt on his life while travelling by train to meet  Franklin D. Roosevelt and Josef Stalin at the Casablanca conference and there are a number of Soviet films from the cold war period which has him in. In television he has most recently been played by the brilliant John Lithgow in Netflix’s award winning The Crown where he has won a Golden Globe, Critics Choice Award, Screen Actors Guild Award, BAFTA and Emmy for his role.

Doctor Who saw him played by Ian McNeice alongside Matt Smith’s version of the time traveller. First appearing in ‘Victory of the Daleks’ and appearing in two more episodes, ‘The Pandorica Opens’ and ‘The Wedding of River Song’, both climatic episodes for that the Eleventh version of the Time Lord.

Darkest Hour is now in cinemas.

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