Over Christmas we watched Into The Storm, the Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s 2009 HBO/BBC film about Churchill.
Brendan Gleeson plays Churchill and he’s as good as Day-Lewis playing Lincoln. He won an Emmy for it.
But the film is a massive lost opportunity. Everything was in place: brilliant lead performance, great supporting performances, production team, you name it: except for the script: Hugh Whitemore made sure the piece could never be more than a “TV movie” because he wrote a Greatest Hits of Churchill.
It should be a matter of first principles, biopic 101, that if you write a Greatest Hits Of […] script, you will end up with an unsatisfying, wikipedia-style story: this happened and then this happened and then this happened. That’s what they did wrong in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013) and that’s what Tony Kushner tried to avoid with Lincoln and what Paul Webb and Ava DuVernay tried to avoid with Martin Luther King in Selma.
What they should have done was focus in on a small slice of Churchill – May to September 1940 – and told us everything about him – told us his whole life and character – inside that period. They did it for the first fifteen minutes – and it was brilliant. You really felt the pressure the Cabinet was under in June 1940, and the sense that any outcome was possible – that negotiations between Germany and England, brokered by the Italians, could have taken place. The title promised you this – but in the end you got Into the Storm, During the Storm, and After the Storm, all in 100 minutes.