“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
So said Oscar Wilde and so describes the life and legacy of Britain’s most famous and revered leader, Winston Churchill, a political giant who wore his racism and imperialism proudly. On, this, the anniversary of his death, let us take a short journey into the life and legacy of this British national icon and separate the myth from the reality.
Churchill movie biopic — history or hagiography?
In the wake of the 2017 release of the Hollywood biopic on Churchill, Darkest Hour, which attracted rave reviews and featured Gary Oldman as Churchill and Kristin Scott Thomas as his long-suffering wife Clementine, a raft of articles on the man and his legacy was produced, confirming that his place in history remains the subject of dispute and conjecture over half a century after his death in 1965.
Darkest Hour focuses on the period of Churchill’s life for which he is most famous, when as prime minister he led Britain during the darkest period in its history after the military disaster of Dunkirk in May 1940.
Prior to his ascension to the role of the nation’s prime minister, Churchill had spent years on the backbenches as a lone Cassandra, warning of the threat posed by Hitler. As far back as 1932, after returning to Britain from a trip to Germany, he addressed the House of Commons thus:
All these bands of Teutonic youths, marching through the streets and roads of Germany, with the light of desire in their eyes to suffer for their Fatherland, are not looking for status. They are looking for weapons.
What should not be forgotten is that in the late 1920s, as with many members of Britain’s ruling elite, Churchill elicited support for Mussolini and his Italian fascist Blackshirts. When it came to the Spanish Civil War his advocacy of ‘strict neutrality’ favoured Franco’s fascist forces, given the material support they were receiving from both Mussolini and Hitler.