Review by Mark Wiechman
Audio: Dolby 2.0
Video: B & W, Color Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: A & E Home Video
Length: 300 Minutes
Release date: August 26, 2003
us…brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British
Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say:
‘This was their finest hour.'”
Sir Winston Spencer Churchill was indeed, as William
Manchester titled his biography, the Last Lion. After a meteoric early career, he was merely a Member of
Parliament with no part in the cabinet, and he spent years in the political
wilderness like John the Baptist warning Europe to change her ways.
But instead of the Messiah, he warned of the coming of evil itself in the
guise of Adolf Hitler. He was privy to secret intelligence delivered directly to his
Chartwell estate. No one listened
until Europe fell under the swastika and all seemed lost. Only then was he asked to become Prime Minister.
This documentary reveals that it was his determined actions and immortal
words which rallied an already despairing Britain to action.
Without his words, it is no exaggeration to say that Europe would have
been lost by 1942 and world history would be entirely different with Hitler
launching attacks on America from British airfields.
Written and presented by the excellent and official
Churchillian biographer Martin Gilbert, all of these facts and more can be
learned in the excellent documentary set Winston Churchill. Especially
interesting and well-documented in several parts of the collection is the
insight into the relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt.
Also, the chapter selections are handy and well-spaced and make it easy
to go back to a favorite part or to pick up where you left off if you have to
put it aside.
There are actually three complete programs:
Disc One has "The Complete Churchill" and Disc Two has
"Churchill and the Cabinet War Rooms" and "FDR: The War
History is full of men and women who were destined for
mediocrity and then surprised the world by leading it down long roads to victory
or loss, often much of each. Winston Churchill was an incorrigible young brat
and mediocre student who educated himself while away at war and became a
lecturer, author, and the leader of Britain in their finest hour.
His letters to his mother while a young man show a vulnerable boy longing
for some word from his mother that he never received, yet he grew to be an
emotional warrior who loved to be in the thick of the action and never lost his
He saw war and struggle as his destiny.
His stubbornness grew into manly courage which steeled the Allies against
the greatest evil in modern times. He
changed political parties more times than I can keep track of, and while he rose
rapidly to become a young cabinet minister and then chancellor of the exchequer,
he also pushed for the disastrous Gallipoli military campaign in World War I
which ended the lives of 100,000 troops and thus nearly ended his career. While it was not entirely his fault, to this day he is
despised by the descendents of those killed in action.
In some ways he was a visionary and a prophet yet for the
most part he was not really of his time at all. Like Teddy Roosevelt, he was an aristocrat who was
fascinated by war and literature as well. Like
TR he was really a man of the 19th century who led his nation through
difficult years of the 20th century even though he was in some ways
an accidental leader. And like TR
he was very emotional without letting his emotions rule him.
Shortly after the war with Germany was over, he was voted out of office.
The British people effectively said thanks for saving the world, now go
His marriage was as successful as his leadership in the war and is discussed in a compassionate way in this documentary. I was somewhat disappointed that his written works were barely discussed, nor is much said about his innovative ideas such as the modern tank. But then the documentary might have been ten hours instead of five and one-half, so that is forgivable.
Nothing special, entirely older footage spliced together,
and it actually moves more quickly than I prefer, but the flow is excellent and
not jumpy at all. No big complaints
in the presentation, though a bit dull compared with The Last Days of the Civil War: April
1865 from the same studio (see my review of that fine film).
While I admit that sometimes I have trouble understanding
accents, the guest interviewees are all easy to understand despite their
appearance in very old footage and heavy aristocratic English accents. Yet the
narrator himself sounds like he is underwater, and he reminds me of a poor radio
announcer or amateur actor whose dynamic range is so unpredictable that I either
have my system screaming or whispering. I blame the engineer, not the narrator.
Compression and equalization can fix this.
Audio overall is surprisingly poor from a studio known for good
Nothing other than a series of immortal Churchill
quotations contained on Disc One.