The Brian Cox film “Churchill” continues to receive a daily gush of credulous reviews by the innocent that demonstrate the onward march of invincible ignorance. One batch of Google Alerts included a ringer: a Baltimore Sun correspondent who cites something Churchill didn’t do (fire-bombing Dresden) to explain how Sir Winston would handle today’s terrorists.
Andrew Roberts, a reliable historian who always cuts through bunk, wrote the best review one can read of this film. On that basis I resolutely declined to watch it. Why raise my blood pressure to relive the “perverse fantasy” Mr. Roberts had to sit through?
Alas I can’t avoid receiving emails asking “what do you think” of the latest outburst of publicity. This includes interviews with Mr. Cox himself, which run far and wide, even in a magazine Churchill would have enjoyed, Cigar Aficionado.
Cox on Rose
In an interview with Charlie Rose, Mr. Cox managed to utter all of these in just twenty minutes:
Winston’s grandfather was the “Earl of Marlborough.”
Lord Randolph Churchill had syphilis and was “out of it” most of the time.
Jan Smuts captured young Winston in South Africa.
Churchill knew King Edward VIII was a “no-hoper” and therefore wanted “Bertie” (George VI).
Churchill was always ill.
He drank amazingly: champagne for breakfast, brandy for lunch, whisky and wine all day.
He slept only four hours in twenty-four.
Clementine didn’t like the 1954 Sutherland painting; WSC didn’t see it until the unveiling.
Mr. Cox cites others who have played Churchill. There was “Larry” Olivier (best buds?). Also, “there’s an actor named Robert Hardy.” Nice. Robert Hardy‘s multiple performances as Churchill set a standard which has never been equalled.
Second World War farrago
Off the cuff on World War II, Mr. Cox displays the minimal research he did before taking on the role. He asserted that:
Churchill made the 1940 suggestion of common Anglo-French citizenship.
He did not want D-Day (Operation Overlord) to happen.
He predicted trench warfare after the invasion of France.
Churchill had an alternative plan to D-Day…
…which was to come through the underbelly of France via Bordeaux…
…to “ratchet up” in Italy and come into Germany through the Alps…
…while coming down from “the Baltics, from Norway”…
…because Churchill was “really afraid of amphibious landings.”
The barest dabbling in multiple sources would inform Mr. Cox and his producers (and Mr. Rose) that Churchill’s alternatives to D-Day were expressed in 1942 and 1943… That by the time of the actual invasion he had spent months helping to plan it… That his own planning dated back to 1941… To the “Mulberry Harbor” scheme, which he first conceived of in 1917… That the “underbelly” he envisioned was Italy, not France… That the post-D-Day invasion of the South of France was a superfluous sideshow which he opposed (and it accomplished nothing)… That Churchill never proposed invading Germany through the Alps… That Churchill never proposed an “invasion from Norway.” Wouldn’t that have involved the amphibious landings he was “really afraid of”? How afraid was he of the landings in North Africa, Sicily, Salerno and Anzio?
Arnhem and the Battle of the Bulge stopped the war from “propelling like it could have done,” added Mr. Cox. The implication is that Arnhem and the Bulge might not have occurred had the Allies launched D-Day earlier.
Fake history, fake detail
Mr. Rose presents five excerpts from the film, which, as Mr. Roberts noted, are as bad in detail as in broad history: “Cox – Churchill wears white tie and tailcoat in the afternoon; Montgomery is given a field-marshal’s uniform when he was at the time a general; Churchill wears workmen’s overalls rather than his velvet siren-suits; Combined Chiefs of Staff top-secret planning meetings are held in the open air on the lawns of country houses.” Mr. Cox, although British, pronounces Clementine like they do in Arizona.
To all this Mr. Rose contributes several banalities and errors. It was cold at the Battle of the Bulge. (Yes.) Roosevelt caught Churchill walking naked in the halls of the White House. (No.) A two-front war could not begin until the Allies invaded France. (A two-front war had begun when they invaded North Africa in 1942.)
It is depressing and disheartening for anyone who knows the barest facts to hear history told by actors, with reality turned on its head under guise of entertainment.
Invented dialogue and scenarios are of course necessary for dramatic effect. Robert Hardy’s scrupulously accurate portrayal of Churchill’s “Wilderness Years” doesn’t deviate an iota from fact or believability. Yet it is at least as dramatic as this latest dose of Fake History. The Churchill saga is high drama on its own. Why embellish it with nonsense?
The film “Churchill” joins such recent lash-ups as “The Crown” and “Viceroy’s House,” which also had gushing reviews all over the media and internet. Like it or not, the web is where most people now get their news and views. They are getting a dreadful dose of distortion from entertainment cloaked as reality, and actors as history teachers.