Synopsis by Bruce Eder
Richard Trank's biographical film focuses on the 20 months between Churchill's ascent to prime minister and the American entry into the Second World War at the end of 1941 and the beginning of 1942. But to do that, it must first carry us back to 1930, when Winston Churchill was at the low point of a three-decade political career; still holding a seat in Parliament but out of the government and also out of favor with the leadership of the British Conservative Party, he was in isolation -- political, social, and personal -- for much of the decade that followed. In the intervening years, he wrote and spoke with ever-increasing fervor against the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany, a lone voice in a complacent or oblivious world. Eventually, he was brought back into the government begrudgingly by the Conservative Party leadership as First Lord of the Admiralty. And after a decade in isolation, he became the reluctant choice of both King George VI and the outgoing prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, to succeed the latter. Combining his writing ability -- perhaps the most formidable of anyone in government anywhere in the English-speaking world -- and his best moral and political instincts, and one of the best speaking voices in the public life of the era, Churchill became an inspiring figure, both at home and abroad over the ensuing 18 months. Coupled with the near-miraculous success of the evacuation of British and French forces from Dunkirk in the wake of the military disaster in France, his presence became a rallying point for anti-Nazis on both sides of the Atlantic, helping to turn the isolationist tide in American politics amid the turmoil of Franklin Roosevelt's unprecedented run for a third presidential term. All the while, Churchill was also facing daily new threats from an emboldened Germany, now based directly across the English Channel and presumed to be planning an imminent invasion. Trank's movie, bound together with narration by Sir Ben Kingsley, weaves these and many other threads -- including an oddly understated yet suitably relevant one regarding Churchill's connection to Jews in England -- together in a focused account of those 20 treacherous months, and the results are engrossing even to those familiar with most of the material covered.
government, political-leader, Prime-Minister, retrospective