Into the Storm is HBO's
follow-up to the award-winning story of Churchill's years of political
exile, The Gathering Storm (2002). The previous film took us
right up to the brink of World War II, when Churchill first became Prime
Minister. Into the Storm picks up afterward, chronicling the
key decisions Churchill made during the war, and the election he lost
in the war's immediate aftermath. Like the first film, it focuses
more on Churchill's challenges than on his successes. Presuming that
those have already been sufficiently documented across a variety of
media, Into the Storm looks into the nooks and crannies of Churchill's
more difficult moments and finds some interesting clues to his character.
The film opens on the image
of Churchill (played by the always-impressive Brendan Gleeson, replacing
Albert Finney from The Gathering Storm) swimming at a French
beach not long after V-E Day. He floats alone amid the breakers,
an image of loneliness that suggests Churchill's unique place in history
- among world leaders, only Churchill vowed from the beginning to
fight Hitler to the end. Now, in mid-1945, the war has ended and
Churchill finds himself victorious, with a depleted, bankrupt country
on his hands - and with no particular plan to rebuild the nation.
During wartime, Churchill led a coalition government, and Labour Party
leader Clement Attlee (Bill Paterson) served as his Deputy Prime Minister.
With the war over and the country's economy decimated, Britons cried
out for a welfare state, which ran counter to Conservative principles.
So, even in the wake of victory, Churchill anticipated a defeat in the
From here, we are taken through
a series of flashbacks, most of which are dedicated to moments during
the war when Churchill was called upon to make one momentous decision
or another. The evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk, for
example, or negotiating with Stalin at the Yalta Conference; writing
and rehearsing his well-known speeches; conferring with King George
VI, with whom he developed a friendship of unusual depth for a prime
minister and monarch; meeting FDR for the first time, during which a
dropped bath towel revealed all Churchill's "secrets" to the president.
These are a few of the important episodes covered in this short but
In the background of all this
is Churchill's relationship with his bright, stoic wife Clemmie (Janet
McTeer). Although she remains a source of indefatigable support,
assisting Winston with his speeches and such, Clemmie also kept him
humble, reminding him who he really worked for.
Gleeson's wonderful performance
maintains the focus of the informed screenplay by Hugh Whitemore (writer
of The Gathering Storm): it emphasizes that Churchill was a principled
man, guided by a simple, strong determination and a love for his country.
Although he was a highly intelligent man, a great wit, and a brilliant
military tactician, he was first and foremost an Englishman and ultimately
that drove every other consideration.
This 98-minute movie covers
about six years in Churchill's life - and they were defining ones
at that. Churchill helped change (and save) the world. So
it's too bad that the picture wasn't given more breathing room.
It could have easily been a three-hour feature. As is, the movie
absolutely flies by, jumping from one crucial moment to another.
For all its compressed length, however, the film manages to convey Churchill
as a character, a human being, rather than a towering historical demi-god.
Gleeson brings a down-to-earth grubbiness to the man that helps us connect;
Churchill was a great intellect as well as a sloppy grouch, and those
aspects are presented in realistic balance.
The enhanced 1.78:1 transfer is excellent. This is brand-new
material, and it looks that way. This well-lit and smartly photographed
film boasts strong contrast and occasional bursts of color amid the
generally grayish wartime production design.
The 5.1 surround track is surprisingly active, even during quieter
scenes. A brief scene of the Blitz is especially atmospheric.
Overall, the track is well-separated and utilizes a wider soundstage
than normally found on TV productions.
These are, unfortunately, quite slim. The commentary track
by producer Frank Doelger and lead actor Gleeson is pretty engaging
and informative. There is also a seven-minute behind the scenes
Into the Storm
is a compelling historical drama that maintains a character-driven approach,
looking at Churchill's behavior, decision-making, speech-writing,
and leadership from ground level. The sharp screenplay and a brilliant
turn by Brendan Gleeson make this a memorable look at one of the twentieth
century's key figures. Highly recommended.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.