Churchill (and five of the best Winston Churchill portrayals on screen)
In June this year, director Jonathan Teplitzky delivered the first of two biopics arriving in 2017 to tackle the subject of one of Britain's most indelible figures, the charismatic wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The second will arrive in November in the form of Anthony McCarten's film Darkest Hour, which will see Gary Oldman take on the role of Britain's wartime leader, but in the meantime you'll be able to feast your eyes on Teplitzky's film when his biopic, titled simply Churchill, arrives in stores on Monday (October 16th).
Teplitzsky's film stars veteran actor Brian Cox as the eponymous protagonist and picks up Churchill's story with the second world war already in full swing and Hitler's armies marching unstoppably through Europe. In particular, the film focusses on Churchill's preparations for the D-Day landings, the infamous battle on the beaches of Normandy that would mark a turning point for the Allied forces.
At the time, however, the situation seemed bleak and not even Churchill was convinced that the operation would be a success – in fact, Teplitzky's film reveals in detail that Churchill himself was strongly of the opinion that the operation was doomed to end in failure.
The Churchill portrayed here is not quite the indomitable leader of the history books, but a rather more fragile and hesitant figure who needs some convincing of his own ability and that of his armies to repel the advancing Nazi forces. Albert Finney nevertheless delivers an outstanding, jowell-trembling performance as the British leader. Teplitzky works from a script provided by Alex von Tunzelman and alongside Cox is a cast that includes Miranda Richardson in the role of Churchill's wife Clementine, John Slattery, Julian Wadham and Ella Purnell.
The two depictions of Churchill arriving this year are just a couple of the many instances of Winston Churchill onscreen, but there have been plenty more over the years. You can find the trailer for Churchill below, beneath that we've picked out five of the finest portrayals of the wartime leader in film and television...
Albert Finney – The Gathering Storm
The first of two made-for-TV films to be based on Churchill's own autobiographical account of his time in politics (and the second adaptation after Herbert Wise's 1974 version starring Richard Burton), The Gathering Storm first aired in 2002 and stars Albert Finney in the leading role. Whereas the later, second instalment would go on to cover Churchill's most famous years in office during WWII, here the story is focussed on the years beforehand, spent largely in the political wilderness, and the importance of his relationship with his wife Clementine in shaping the man that would lead the country in the battle against Hitler's forces. A more tender depiction of Churchill than we're used to, but Finney pulls it off with style.
Brendon Gleeson – Into the Storm
The second of the films adapted from Churchill's own writings, Into the Storm takes us into the business end of Churchill's political career and this time it's Irish actor Brendon Gleeson who takes on the role and adds a more belligerent and charismatic spin on this well-known. Since this is the wartime Churchill, Gleeson gets to deliver all of his most famous quotes and he does so with skill and verve. Never mind the fact that he's Irish; this is one of the best depictions of the British leader you'll ever see.
Timothy Spall – The King's Speech
Although the focal subject of Tom Hooper's 2010 film is the stammering future king, George VI, Winston Churchill does have a role to play in his story, including one key scene in which Churchill suggests that the name George might be a better choice than the more 'Germanic' Albert. Hooper's film features Timothy Spall in the role of the country's erstwhile leader, who does a superb job of depicting Churchill's voice and mannerisms. It's just a shame we don;t get to see more of him.
Michael Gambon – Churchill's Secret
Most people tend to think of Churchill as a wartime Prime Minister thanks to his important role during WWII, but although Clement Atlee succeeded him as the country's leader when the war ended in 1945, Churchill regained office in 1951 and served a second term as Prime Minister until he retired from the role in 1955. It was only later that the truth behind his resignation would emerge; Churchill had suffered a stroke in 1953, a fact that the British government was determined to keep secret. It's this period of his life that forms the basis of Churchill's Secret, a made-for-TV film aired in 2016 that sees Michael Gambon take on the titular role. Gambon's Churchill is a more feeble figure than the one remembered in wartime accounts, but the veteran British actor delivers a superb portrayal of a leader facing a very different battle; the fight to stay in office despite his ailing health.
Christian Slater – Churchill: The Hollywood Years
Our final pick is probably not one of the better known depictions of Winston Churchill – and certainly not the most historically accurate – but it is one of the most entertaining. Taking more than a few liberties with the facts, Peter Richardson's 2004 comedy takes a satirical swipe at Hollywood's habit of exaggerating the American role in the war and reimagines Churchill as a brash U.S. Marine officer on a mission to stop Adolf Hitler from moving into Buckingham Palace with the intention of marrying into the Royal Family. Christian Slater delivers an irreverent, cigar-chomping performance as the reimagined Churchill and while it isn't one many historians would recognise, there's no disputing the fact that Slater brings the Hollywood glitz more than any other actor.