The opening credits roll up with a stream of smoke from a long cigar resting on an ashtray. This is an appropriate beginning to the eight-episode DVD collection Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years, detailing the years 1929 to 1935 in the life of one of Great Britain's most famed prime ministers and avid cigar smokers.
The "Wilderness Years" of Churchill's life were those spent out of the limelight of politics -- a place he had enjoyed as a senior member of Parliament prior to 1929 -- and the time leading up to the start of the Second World War. It is here, at his lowest point in public affairs, that Churchill's immutable spirit comes through. Making his living as a journalist and privately collecting information on Adolf Hitler's activities, Churchill is shown in the DVD set as the lone voice in the British government outwardly speaking against the Nazis and their plans of world domination. These actions would eventually lead him into the prime minister position with the onset of the war.
The film takes a stark and diligent look at Churchill's activities; employing little stylization, it resembles a documentary without the narration. The viewer sits beside Churchill at meetings of Parliament; takes walks next to him around his bucolic estate, Chartwell; travels abroad to the United States and listens to his speeches fighting for rule in India and the disarmament of Germany. These characteristics give the picture a more theatrical, rather than a cinematic feel. This is concurrent with the cast, whose backing lies mostly in the theater, as does that of the producer and writer.
With a running time of 390 minutes (six and a half-hours), The Wilderness Years is very long and drags at points. But the Churchill aficionado would be riveted by the copious fashion in which the events of this period of his life are conveyed.
The film is based on Sir Martin Gilbert's biography of Churchill. Produced in 1983 by Southern Pictures Ltd., it was re-released on DVD this year by Lance Entertainment, Inc. The 2003 two-disc DVD set retails for about $35.
Published Autumn 1995
A Gentleman of History
Posted April 24, 2002,
A Fresh Look at Winston Churchill
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