Monday, 29 January 2018
With Gary Oldman tipped for the Oscar this year for his performance in Darkest Hour, many have proclaimed him to be the definitive Churchill. But, well I don't know about you, but don't you think we've had enough biopics about Winston Churchill now?
We've had Albert Finney in 2002's The Gathering Storm, and Brendan Gleeson in 2009's Into The Storm. We've had Michael Gambon in 2016's Churchill's Secret and Brian Cox in last year's Churchill. We've had Timothy Spall appear as Churchill in The King's Speech from 2010 and John Lithgow as Churchill in Netflix's acclaimed drama series The Crown. We've even had both Andy Nyman and Richard McCabe play him in Peaky Blinders. And all of these are just those of note made in the last 15 years or so, there's plenty more, and (perhaps asides from Peaky Blinders which shows him to be a ruthless horse trader) all of them say the same thing: that Churchill was The Greatest Briton Who Ever Lived™.
Now far be it from me to say that Churchill wasn't a remarkable man who helped obliterate Hitler's dream of a thousand year Reich, but I've always believed that this canonisation of Churchill to be deeply worrying. To my mind, Churchill was simply the right man for the job at the time. In short; he was a wartime prime minister, terrible in peace time. None of these biopics ever explore any other aspect of Churchill's life, character or political career and it's immensely frustrating because they're choosing to ignore a lot of things that need addressing about the man.
Churchill was not a saint and many would struggle to view him heroically. This is a man who said "I hate Indians. They are beastly people with a beastly religion". In 1943 4 millions Bengalis died from a famine he later claimed was their own fault because they "bred like rabbits".
A year later in 1944 he ordered the British army to open fire on protesters on the streets of Athens, killing 28 civilians and injuring 120. These Greeks were partisans who fought with the British against the Nazis and the reason Churchill turned on them was because he feared their communist tendencies. He supported the right wing Greek government and wanted to see the monarchy restored. He employed former RUC commander Charles Wickham to train Greece's security forces. His actions helped shape the far right movement that continues in Greece to this day.
His actions in India and Greece were not uncharacteristic either, there's several countries blighted by Churchill's less than saintly character: Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Kenya, and South Africa, the latter with its disgusting British run concentration camps and which Churchill argued that black people should be exempted from voting. He was a keen proponent of chemical warfare against Kurds and Afghans, believed in the superiority of white people, and also advocated sterilisation and labour camps for 'degenerate Britons'. Perhaps he considered the striking miners of Tonypandy as degenerates when he sent the troops in to the area to maintain order in 1910? A decision he made again in Liverpool just a year later - this time the soldiers opened fire, killing two people. Also that year Churchill dabbled in the Sidney Street siege between some 200 police and Latvian anarchists, ordering the police to let the house the gang were hiding in burn down.
You can read more about this less than glorious side to Winston Churchill both here and here.
All I'm saying is if these countless biopics don't address all sides of the man then aren't we just whitewashing his legend? And isn't it time we started bringing the lives of other notable politicians to the screen - where, for example, are the biopics of Clem Attlee or Nye Bevan?