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Thursday, 11 July, 2002, 16:55 GMT 17:55 UK
The Gathering Storm
The Gathering Storm

A new television drama which explores the forgotten years of Winston Churchill starring Alberet Finney, Vanessa Redgrave, Jim Broadbent, Derek Jacobi and Hugh Bonneville .

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)

Alkarim Jivani, it's a historical drama, which means you have to get the history and the drama. Did they manage it?

Yes, I think they did rather a good job. I didn't find it entirely successful. As the credits rolled over the English countryside, my heart swelled and sank at the same time.

It swelled because of the amazing cast which went on and on. If they were all to shake their BAFTAs at us, we would be deafened by the ringing tones. It sank, at the same time, because the only time this sort of cast is gathered together is when there is a lot of American money. For my money, it didn't quite work.

The key problem is Albert Finney's Winston Churchill. It's the television equivalent of King Lear, that every actor of stature and girth has to attempt at some point or another. Everybody has tried it. Timothy West, Robert Hardy three times, Richard Burton. The problem with Albert Finney's version is it was too good an impersonation, and he had to stick his chin into his chest. It just hobbled him really.

Allison, it's hard to believe in the inevitability of history. This is the absolute improbability of history that this man is almost certainly about to save his nation. A remarkable period of history. Did it work dramatised?

It's an interesting period of Churchill's life, but not an intensely dramatic one. They have to slightly search around, there's a sub-plot about a young chap working in the Foreign Office, who steals some information to feed Churchill for his speeches made in Parliament. It's a sort of phoney suspense really, because you don't really believe in it.

I disagree with Alkarim, I loved Albert Finney. The timber of the voice is perfect, the timing is perfect. The grandeur, childishness, petulance and the charisma, I thought, was tremendous. I think it's probably very bad history. I am not a historian, but even I know that after Baldwin came Chamberlain, and it seemed to me that, probably because of American money, they probably said, "We can't have two prime ministers for people to get their heads round." But the great battle for Churchill in those years was against Chamberlain.

You miss Churchill's great speech. But I thought it was perfect comfort television. It's like being in the back of some wonderful vintage car cruising along, you know it's not going along anywhere in particular. But the upholstery, the walnut dashboard, the portrait of the marriage between him and Vanessa Redgrave is magical. The bathroom scene, dictating the speeches to his secretary, just joyous moments.

It's good to remind American viewers that this shambling, huge drunken figure could turn out to be one of the great figures in history. Tom Paulin?

I was very moved by it. I had tears in my eyes often watching it. I just thought Albert Finney was tremendous. Vanessa Redgrave, very good, but no good at throwing crockery at Winston. That didn't quite work! But it was very, very powerful.

Redgrave was good, but she could have been better, I think. It was moving, and then Churchill quoting Kipling, quoting a wonderful rude poem of Pushkin's. The weakness was Brendan Bracken, a great crony of Churchill's and a great Irish politician, reduced. And Wigram, given a disabled son, as if this was the motive for him acting on principle. He was a flat character. Churchill had all these cronies devoted to him, whom Clementine hated. That didn't come through.

I thought it was rather like Shipman, in that you know exactly how it ends, you know pretty much what is going to happen, yet I thought here they got away with it very well.

But the really great story is Churchill becoming Prime Minister. In this, he becomes first Lord of the Admiralty and it all goes wrong because of the Norway campaign. But then I hope there will be a sequel, the great story of how he beats Halifax to become Prime Minister. That has to be told. But it did reduce things. Chamberlain should have been there. Who cares about Baldwin? The appeasers were let off, I thought. They were Nazis, some of them.

See also:

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