I am pleased to see that on the question of how to think about the Churchill biopic Darkest Hour, the great Andrew Roberts comes down pretty close to where I do–and also where to rank the other major Churchill biopics. Our one major divergence is over Brendan Gleeson’s turn in the HBO production Into the Storm, which I thought suffered more from defective writing and poor direction rather than Gleeson’s acting.
Anyway, here’s some of Andrew, writing in The Spectator:
Sir Jock Colville, Churchill’s wartime private secretary, who was 41 years younger than Churchill, wrote of how exhausting it was to keep up with the Prime Minister as he bounded up staircases, climbed bombsites and marched quickly down corridors. Oldman catches this. Others have played what Oldman calls ‘this sort of rather depressed grumpy man with a cigar’, but he wanted to ‘give him a bit of a twinkle in the eye’. . .
Just as things looked good for Churchill on screen, however, a slew of frankly ridiculous revisionist films and TV shows were released, which, with the wartime generation then dead or dying, showed a shocking disregard for historical fact, while still posing as that self-contradictory, want-it-both-ways beast, the ‘docudrama’. . .
The advantage that the TV biopics of the 1970s had over today’s knocking, sneering revisionist movies — which Darkest Hour emphatically is not — was that there were many people still alive in 1974 who knew and worked with Churchill. They could pour scorn on inaccuracies, as could audiences.
Andrew is at present working on his own biography of Churchill. In the meantime, his approval must be one reason why Gary Oldman’s Churchill took to dancing to James Brown (also thus proving that Oldman is no method actor):